Weslaco immigration attorney arrested in bribery case

A Weslaco attorney accused of paying for confidential lists of people detained in Rio Grande Valley immigration detention facilities was arrested Wednesday.

Federal authorities arrested 39-year-old Roel Alaniz after a grand jury returned a seven-count indictment accusing the man of conspiracy and bribery involving former immigration detention employees, the United States Attorneys Office, Southern District of Texas, announced in a news release.

In May, authorities arrested Benito Barrientez, 42, of Lyford, Damian Ortiz, 30, of Weslaco, and Exy Adelaida Gomez, 42, of Los Fresnos.

All three have entered not guilty pleas to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and bribery.

Alaniz is accused in a seven-count indictment of paying Ortiz for the lists of immigration detainees, who he would try to convince to hire his law firm in their immigration proceedings. Ortiz is accused of obtaining the lists from Barrientez, who paid Gomez for lists obtained from the Port Isabel Detention Center and El Valle Detention Center, according to authorities.

Barrientez and Ortiz worked at the Willacy County Regional Detention Center while Gomez worked at the El Valle Detention Center. Those facilities are in Raymondville.

The alleged crimes began in February 2018 and ended in February of this year.

Alaniz is described as “Person A” in the indictment against the former detention officers. That charging document only specifies exchanges of cash between Jan. 4 and Jan. 31.

As of deadline, The Brownsville Herald had not reviewed the indictment against Alaniz.

The indictment against the former detention officers, however, alleges that on Jan. 4 Barrientez called Gomez and asked her for a list of detainees from the El Valle Detention Center to give to Alaniz for $300, though the payment was then increased to $500.

Federal prosecutors say Gomez met Barrientez in a parking lot in Harlingen and was paid $500. The indictment alleges that Barrientez then gave the list to Ortiz, who delivered it to another person in Weslaco, who paid Ortiz $350.

The indictment against the former detention officers details several more instances throughout January in which federal prosecutors accuse Ortiz of paying Barrientez, who then paid Gomez, for the lists, which Ortiz then gave to Alaniz for cash payments ranging from $500 to $1,000.

Alaniz is scheduled for an initial appearance at 10 a.m. today in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Ignacio Torteya III.