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Guard Held in Jail Bribe Case

The staffer at a federal unit in O.C. allegedly took inmate money for items including cellphones and bodybuilding nutrients.

October 19, 2006|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

A guard at a federal detention center in Orange County was arrested this week on suspicion of taking bribes in exchange for smuggling contraband to at least one inmate, including cellphones, a small computer, protein powders and other bodybuilding substances, a federal official said.

Jose Abel Flores is a correctional officer at the Santa Ana City Jail, which has a contract to house federal prisoners awaiting trial. Flores, 36, of Corona was taken into custody Monday at the jail.

He is scheduled to appear at a bail hearing today.

Flores' attorney, federal Public Defender Dan McCurrie, could not be reached for comment.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Kenneth B. Julian, the lead prosecutor, said he would probably ask that Flores be held without bail.

According to an arrest affidavit prepared by FBI agent Philip J. Carson, the investigation was carried out with the help of an unnamed inmate who is awaiting sentencing on weapons and drug charges, and who is cooperating with the government in hopes of leniency.

The inmate told Carson that Flores began supplying him with illegal goods in November 2005. Under their arrangement, Flores supplied a Sidekick III cellphone, a hand-held computer commonly used for playing video games, liquid creatine and Hydroxycut pills and food, whenever the inmate asked, according to authorities and the affidavit.

Julian said it was not immediately clear whether Flores was delivering goods to other inmates, though prosecutors "strongly suspect there's other people he supplied."

For his services, Flores was paid several thousand dollars, the affidavit says. On many occasions, Flores collected the money from an associate of the inmate by meeting him at a designated pickup point in Puente Hills, the affidavit says.

Based on this information, investigators mounted a sting operation in which Flores was audiotaped and photographed at the meeting spot carrying out the deals, once in August and again in September, according to the affidavit. Each time, the inmate asked for a cellphone and gave Flores the name and number of an undercover agent posing as the bagman.

During the first sting, Flores told the inmate it would cost him $3,000, and Flores arranged over the phone to meet the undercover agent at a McDonald's in Seal Beach, the affidavit says. A month later, the inmate told Flores he had to flush the phone down the toilet to keep it from being discovered and needed a new one. Initially, Flores said he would charge $2,000. But the next day, he raised the price to $3,000, the affidavit says.

The phone conversations between Flores and the undercover bagman were also recorded, the affidavit says.

After Carson arrested Flores and read him his rights, the guard admitted accepting $6,000 for bringing two cellphones into the jail, it says.

christine.hanley@latimes.com

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