Fourteen Prison Guards Plead Guilty to Running Inmate-Drug Empire

We guess the definition of "captive audience" is pretty much epitomized by prison inmates.

In Beeville, guards at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's McConnell Unit took advantage of the potential customer base and ran one hell of a drug ring, with the aid of inmates. They also smuggled in phones, because they were all about serving the customer.

How big was this thing? Fourteen guards are going to be doing time for their part in the enterprise, as will 11 other individuals.

The Houston U.S. Attorney's office announced the convictions, which will result in prison time for some of the guards -- and if there's nothing like being a former prison guard in prison, we assume -- and probation/home confinement for others.

"The arrests came as a result of a joint effort between TDCJ-Office of Inspector General and federal authorities to attempt to break the 'culture of corruption' that permeated the McConnell Unit Prison during a period between 2005 to the present," the U.S Attorney's office said. "State and federal authorities worked together in a determined effort to disrupt and dismantle the violent criminal gangs who were profiting through the corruption of guards at the prison."

The Aryan Circle and Mexican cartels were involved in the operation, which also included organizing drug deals outside the prison walls.

If you want the names and sentences, plow through this from the USAO:

Former McConnell Unit guards Stephanie Deming, 24, Lela Ysolde Hinojosa, 52, and Arturo Salas, 23, all of Beeville, Christy Nesloney, 27, of Cuero, James Randal Standlea, 25, of Mathis, Desiree Silguero, 43, of McAllen, Emmanuel Cotto, 32, of San Antonio, Megan Brook Morales, 24, of Bulverde, Lakeisha Jeanette Reid, 25, of Austin, Jaime Jorge Garza, 38, of Santa Elena, and Oscar Juraidini, 25, of Brownsville, were all convicted of one count of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), as was contract mental health professional Kimberly Koenig, 32, of Victoria. Nesloney was sentenced today to 28 months in federal prison, while Deming received 27 months, while Reid received a sentence of 24 months in federal prison, while Salas and Juraidini will each serve 22 months. Hinojosa and Morales each received 21-month terms of incarceration, while Garza will be in prison for 15 months. Silguero and Cotto will serve five months to be immediately followed by another five months on home confinement. Standlea will be on probation for three years. Just moments ago, Koenig received her sentence - three years of probation.

Other McConnell Unit Guards Jamar Tremayne Green 30, of Refugio, Casey Simmons, 25, of Kenedy, and Justin Leonard, 24, of Cypress, were convicted of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute ecstasy, marijuana and cocaine, respectively. Simmons was sentenced to three years of probation, while Green and Leonard will serve five months in prison plus five months of home confinement.

Seven of the 10 individuals considered "facilitators" in the case were also sentenced today. Yvonne Sandoval, 37, of Corpus Christi, Maria Fernanda Hidalgo, 32, of McAllen, and Lindsey Elaine Savage, 30, of Copperas Cove, were all convicted of RICO and received sentences of 18 months, 12 months plus one day, and 38 months, respectively. Melissa Lozano, 29, of San Antonio, was also convicted on the RICO count and will be sentenced Nov. 25, 2013. The six other facilitators pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering. Juanita Beltran Mendez, 50, of Bishop, will be on probation for five years, while Nancy Star Onega, 27, and Donna Sorise, 57, both of Hialeah, Fla., and Maria Rose Rodriguez, 35, of Alamo, will serve sentences of 60, 71 and 66 months, respectively. Craig Owens, 29, of Kileen, and Karla Sanchez, 26, of Houston, will be sentenced Nov. 25, 2013.

(Don't worry, there won't be a test.)

Two individuals are still on the loose, officials said.

"During the course of the investigation, agents and officers seized approximately 13 pounds of crystal methamphetamine with an estimated street value of more than $300,000," the USAO said. "Additionally, seven assault rifles, 14 pistols, five shotguns, five bullet proof vests and approximately 1,000 rounds of ammunition were seized from the gang."

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Richard Connelly
Contact: Richard Connelly