Warden sentenced to prison after sex abuse scandal in Dublin
OAKLAND, Calif. - A judge on Wednesday sentenced the former head of the Federal Correctional Institute at Dublin to nearly six years behind bars making Ray J. Garcia the first warden in the United States to be sentenced on sex crimes charges to prison – a place where he sexually abused incarcerated women and spent more than 30 years of his career.
And for the first time, Garcia, 55, of Merced, held himself accountable for what he did.
"I stand before you a broken man," he told U.S. District Court Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, his voice cracking with emotion. "I couldn't be more ashamed. I couldn't be more sorry."
He said he has long been a "highly sexualized" man, an issue he never properly dealt with because he was always more concerned with his job and taking care of his family.
He also apologized for not taking responsibility earlier because he thought that "somehow this would go away. But I was wrong. Terribly wrong."
He added: "I didn't show strength, discipline, or character. I'm sorry beyond sorry to the women I've hurt."
Garcia said that he hopes to work on himself and change his behavior while in prison.
He vowed not to appeal the case any further. He must surrender on May 19. Where he will spend his prison sentence has not been determined. The exact term of his sentence is 5 years and 10 months. He must also pay $15,000 in restitution to the women and register as a sex offender upon completing his sentence.
The judge decided not to remand him into custody immediately because she said he would have been taken to Santa Rita Jail, which she doubted could accommodate him.
Garcia's words – though they might have been uttered solely to earn a lighter sentence – meant something to the sex abuse survivors, said Susan Beaty, an attorney with Centro Legal de La Raza in Oakland.
But she added quickly that she doesn't think any prison sentence will bring real change or real justice to them without "deep and systemic change. Dublin is a cesspool."
Tess Korth, a former unit manager who worked at FCI prison for 25 years, agreed.
Korth said Garcia's words, albeit hollow and way too late, gave her a "weird wave of peace."
And that was the purpose of making Garcia show some remorse, the judge said ahead of his sentencing, so that his victims can begin to heal.
"You have finally, finally taken responsibility," Gonzalez Rogers said. "I hope your victims can move past this."
MORE: Dozens of Dublin prison sex survivors face deportation
A jury in December 2022 convicted Garcia of eight counts of sexual abuse and one count of lying to the FBI.
Women at the trial testified that Garcia complimented them, took them into bathrooms to fondle them and on one occasion, told a woman to undress, get down on her hands and knees and insert a half-sucked candy cane into her vagina.
He also showed pictures of his penis to many of the incarcerated women and had sex chats with one of them after she was released to a halfway house in Alaska.
On Wednesday, one of those women, Katrina, gave a tearful plea to the judge, crying as she said she was treated as a "sexual play toy" and that "prison rape is swept under the rug."
Since she was needed for the prosecutors' case, Katrina said she is forced to continue living at FCI Dublin, where she was abused and continues to be abused to this day because she spoke out against Garcia's behavior.
"There is a complete disregard for my safety," Katrina said while crying. "My sentence does not come with a clause to be sexually abused."
Melissa, the woman whom Garcia told to get on all fours, also spoke.
In a defiant tone, she told Garcia that he made her life a living hell.
"You are a predator and a pervert," she said, listing a long list of nightmares that she still lives with because of Garcia's illegal behavior. "But you have no more power over me."
Two women incarcerated at FCI Dublin emailed messages after the verdict, noting how long their sentences are compared to the warden's. Most women at the prison are serving time for drug possession and distribution.
"We were hoping for more custody time, especially when so many women here received a lot more time for far less egregious acts," one woman wrote.
Another said she was shocked with the relatively short amount of time the warden will be behind bars.
"This not justice," she wrote. "So many women are in here for years for non-violent crimes with no victims. He had so many victims. More than the judge ever heard about. I have some real issues with that."
Garcia's admission Wednesday of his own actions stood in stark contrast to how he behaved during his trial, when he denied any wrongdoing. His defense attorney attacked the women, calling them felons and liars.
"I knew the women weren't lying," Gonzalez Rogers said as she sentenced him. "Because the stories you told were so ludicrous."
She added: "You entered a cesspool and then did nothing about it. You just went along with the ride and enjoyed the cesspool yourself. You should have done something about it."
Prosecutors had asked the judge for a 15-year sentence, while Garcia's attorney, Kevin Little, had asked for as little as two years. Little noted that because of Garcia's stature as a former warden, he would likely serve an isolated sentence in a remote institution, which is well known to be psychologically detrimental.
Garcia's teenage son who has special needs, wrote a letter to the judge asking her not to send his father to jail. He asked that his father get off with a "warning for what he allegedly did."
Only Garcia's sister, Elida Stuart, spoke at the hearing, asking the judge to let her brother live at home with electronic monitoring instead of going to prison. She said her parents, who are in their 70s, needed him at home to help with "heavy lifting" and other matters around the house.
Before court, Garcia declined comment outside the federal courthouse in Oakland, holding up a black BOP folder to block the cameras.
The courtroom was packed with sexual abuse survivors and their attorneys, the FBI, members of the Bureau of Prisons, federal prosecutors and a small group of Garcia's family and friends.
In a statement, BOP Director Colette Peters said her agency "wholeheartedly supports holding those who violate public trust and engage in egregious criminal activity accountable."
"As corrections professionals, we are trained and take an oath that requires us to act with integrity. Above all else, we have a sacred responsibility to safeguard those in our care and custody," Peters' statement continued. "To the victims and all negatively impacted by these offenses, be assured, we will continue our commitment to rooting out this criminal behavior and holding those who violate their oath accountable."
FCI Dublin is a low-level, minimum-security, all-women's prison near Santa Rita Jail. Actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were sentenced there for their roles in the college admissions scandal.
MORE: Woman at center of Dublin prison sex scandal says guard used mental health files to prey on her
Garcia is the highest-ranking federal BOP correctional officer to be convicted and sentenced in the country, since 1925 when United States Penitentiary Atlanta Warden Albert E. Sartain who was sentenced to prison for 1 ½ years after a bribery conviction.
He is the only prison warden in the United States to be convicted of sexual abuse.
He is one of five correctional officers to date charged for sex crimes at the Dublin prison. The charged crimes stem from the years 2019 to 2021.
The other four correctional officers are:
- Prison cook Enrique Chavez was sentenced to nearly two years in prison and prison chaplain James Highhouse was sentenced to seven years in prison.
- Former officer Ross Klinger pleaded guilty in February 2022 and has been living in Riverside County. He has still not been sentenced. One of his sex survivors told KTVU that not only did he have sex with her and promise to marry her, but he rifled through her mental health files to manipulate her as well.
- Former recycling technician John Russell Bellhouse, 39, formerly of Pleasanton, is the remaining officer left. He was charged with three sex assault charges, including engaging in sexual activity in the prison's safety office. His trial is scheduled for May 30.
Over the last two years, KTVU has interviewed nearly 50 women at FCI Dublin, many of whom allege they were victims of sexual abuse, witnessed the illegal sexual behavior, were retaliated for speaking out or deported after relaying their stories to federal authorities.
Some of their abusers have not been charged and the federal government has been tight-lipped about their investigations. Many of the women complain that the prosecution has undercharged their cases and not moved quickly enough to hold officers accountable.
KTVU previously reported that at least two dozen officers were placed on leave in May 2022 as authorities investigated claims of sex abuse, drug uses and falsifying records.
Aside from the sexual abuse, dozens of women have also complained to KTVU about other health problems. They have filed court documents saying that they are living in unhealthy and toxic conditions at the prison because of asbestos and mold – and their grievances have mostly gone unheard and sometimes even punished.
As he sought for leniency for his client, attorney Little noted that the sexual misconduct at FCI Dublin predates Garcia – notably with the other four officers.
In fact, Little said, the sexual abuse dates back to at least the 1990s, when the prison was sued for similar assault charges, and then vowed to reform back then
"This is a sick institution," Little told the judge, "and one that probably should have been closed."
Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez