Hidalgo County assistant district attorney faces federal bribery charges

Records: Attorney’s brother arrested in bribery case in July 2018

EDINBURG — A now ex-assistant district attorney was arrested Monday and faces federal charges related to a bribery case.

Cynthia Nalleli Alanis, 27, a Hidalgo County assistant district attorney, was arrested by federal authorities Monday morning in connection with a bribery scheme that allegedly also involved her brother, Roel Alanis.

In a prepared statement, Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez confirmed the arrest but did not elaborate on the charges Alanis faces.

The statement also says Alanis was terminated from the district attorney’s office upon news of the arrest.

“ I have been advised that Misdemeanor Assistant District Attorney Cynthia Alanis in my office was arrested by federal authorities. The employee has been terminated. It is my understanding that the charges filed are unrelated to any of the work performed by the former employee in this office,” Rodriguez said in the prepared statement. “Because this matter involves a former District Attorney Office employee, we will not comment on any potential criminal investigation, nor will we comment any further on matters pertaining to internal employment decisions.”

According to public records, Alanis, who graduated from St. Mary’s University in May 2018, began working with the DA’s office beginning in November 2018.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of Texas also confirmed that Cynthia Alanis is the younger sister of Roel Alanis, who was arrested by federal authorities in late July in connection with bribery charges.

A grand jury returned a seven-count indictment in July 2018 accusing Roel Alanis of conspiracy and bribery involving former immigration detention employees, the USAO announced in a news release at the time of the arrest.

In May 2018, authorities arrested Benito Barrientez, 42, of Lyford, Damian Ortiz, 30, of Weslaco, and Exy Adelaida Gomez, 42, of Los Fresnos.

Roel Alanis, 39, is accused in the 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 — facilities located in Raymondville.

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

Roel Alanis 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.

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 Roel Alanis 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 to provide the aforementioned documents.

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 Roel Alanis for cash payments ranging from $500 to $1,000.

Barrientez and Ortiz, who have pleaded guilty, are set for sentencing in late April.

Roel Alanis is scheduled to go to trial in his federal trial beginning in early March, court records show.

As for Roel Alanis’ sister, a grand jury handed down an indictment under seal Feb. 18, alleging that she, Cynthia Alanis, provided false statements to federal agents in connection with her brother’s case. As of Monday afternoon, the indictment had not been unsealed.

According to the USAO release, the lists were allegedly provided to Roel Alanis, an attorney with a practice in in the Rio Grande Valley, who then allegedly paid money to the employees in return for receiving the lists which contained names, dates of birth, country of origin and “A-numbers” of alien detainees.

The news release also alleges Roel Alanis instructed his sister Cynthia Alanis, and “others,” to visit the detainees for the purpose of hiring his law firm as their attorney in immigration proceedings.

Cynthia Alanis, who faces up to five years in prison if convicted, made her initial federal court appearance Monday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Ignacio Torteya III in Brownsville.