- Enrique Chavez is the fifth Bureau of Prisons employee at the high-profile Northern California prison in Dublin to be indicted at the facility since spring 2021.
- Members of Congress have urged more scrutiny and investigations into allegations of systemic sexual abuse of inmates.
- The prison is one of the nation’s few all-female federal prisons.
A fifth employee at a federal women’s prison in California has been indicted on charges stemming from sexual abuse of an inmate. The high-profile Dublin prison in Northern California, formerly home to well-known actors and one of the nation’s few all-female federal prisons, has come under scrutiny in recent months for alleged systemic abuse.
Enrique Chavez, 49, who worked as a cook supervisor, became the fifth Bureau of Prisons employee to be indicted at the facility since spring 2021. The prison’s former warden, prison safety administrator and recycling technician were all indicted on similar charges last year, and its chaplain – whose office was sealed off by authorities since prior to the pandemic – was indicted earlier this year.
The charges against Chavez were unsealed Wednesday as members of Congress have urged more scrutiny and investigations into allegations of systemic sexual abuse of inmates by those in power at the prison. The Bureau of Prisons has suffered from low staffing and morale, especially due to the pandemic, and its Trump-era director Michael Carvajal will be resigning as soon as a successor is in place.
Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin both did time at the Dublin prison for their involvement in the college admissions bribery scandal. Dublin is one of the country’s 122 federal prisons and one of five all-women prisons in the federal system.
The felony grand jury indictment, filed March 10 in the U.S. District Court Northern District of California, charges Chavez with two counts of abusive sexual contact around October 2020. Chavez allegedly touched an inmate’s vagina, “breasts and buttocks with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, or arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person,” the charges state. Chavez was arrested in Arizona and is awaiting transfer to Oakland to face these charges. According to court documents, the warrant was issued with no bail.
“The government is currently investigating additional suspects for related crimes,” prosecutors wrote in its motion to unseal the indictment. “In connection with those investigations, the government plans to execute multiple search warrants.”
An attorney for Chavez could not immediately be determined for comment.
“Holding a position of power comes with great responsibility. Chavez made a decision to abuse his authority and victimize inmates he was responsible for overseeing,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair said in a statement. “Let this send a clear message that the FBI will investigate and hold accountable any and every individual who commits an act like this, regardless of your title or authority.”
The Dublin prison has been under scrutiny by members of Congress who wrote a letter earlier this month to the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz urging him to investigate the prison and retaliation against staff and inmates for filing complaints or helping in the investigation of complaints.
Horowitz said in a statement Wednesday that his office would “continue to aggressively pursue allegations of abuse at FCI Dublin and across the BOP.”
In a criminal complaint filed against the prison’s then-Warden Ray J. Garcia, 54, on Sept. 23 that accused him of sexual abuse of an inmate, a special agent for the FBI said in an affidavit that Garcia led Prison Rape Elimination Act training for staff in 2019 and 2020 and instructed inmates on how to report allegations.
The complaint accused Garcia of penetrating a victim’s vagina with his finger on multiple occasions, asking inmates to strip naked for him when he did his rounds, and taking photos and saving them to his personal laptop. Investigators also found a “large volume of sexually graphic photographs” of both male and female genitalia and nude photos of Garcia on his work cellphone issued by the Bureau of Prisons.
In an effort to prevent an inmate from reporting abuse, Garcia allegedly told the inmate he was a close friend with the head of the “Special Investigative Services,” which investigates allegations of misconduct by inmates and guards in the prison.
According to the agent’s affidavit: “Garcia told her that he liked convicts because they do not go to the cops, that he could not be fired, and that she could not ‘ruin him.’”
An attorney for Garcia declined to comment. Garcia has since retired.
The chaplain, James Theodore Highhouse, 49, pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement in February in federal court to five felonies for sexually abusing a female inmate who came to him for spiritual guidance, and then lying to federal agents during the ensuing investigation. He faces up to 39 years in prison.
Attorneys for Highhouse did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
When reached by USA TODAY last fall, Highhouse said inmates come to him for “different reasons” but would not provide details. He denied any allegations of misconduct and said he did not “recall anyone saying anything about” the allegations that Garcia or Ross Klinger, the recycling technician, sexually abused inmates. Klinger, 37, pleaded guilty to three counts in February.
According to the complaint against Klinger, who was accused of one count of sex abuse of a ward, he had sex with two inmates and told both he wanted to father their children and made plans to marry them. The complaint alleges that Klinger repeatedly had sex with the first victim in a storage warehouse and continued to keep in touch with her after he was transferred to a different prison, using the alias “Juan Garcia” and also communicated with her through email and video visits.
Klinger also allegedly had sex with another inmate in a cargo container while another inmate acted as a lookout. After the inmate was released to a halfway house, Klinger stayed in contact with her by text message and Snapchat. He visited her at a halfway house, where they had sex and he proposed to her with a diamond ring.
The safety manager, John Russell Bellhouse, 39, has pleaded not guilty to engaging in sexual acts during 2000 with an inmate he called his “girlfriend.” He allegedly provided the inmate with earrings, let her use his office phone and engaged in oral sex with her twice, one of those times in the safety office. Another inmate acted as a “lookout” on at least one of the encounters, according to the complaint.
His attorney did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The Bureau of Prisons did not immediately reply to a request for comment.