OAKLAND, Calif. - An Oakland jury on Thursday found the former warden of a federal all-women's prison guilty of eight counts of sexual abuse and lying to the FBI in an abuse of power case that has repercussions around the country.
Ray J. Garcia is the highest ranking federal prison official to be convicted of such crimes.
A jury of 10 men and two women found Garcia, the former warden of the Federal Correctional Institute at Dublin, guilty of three counts of having sexual contact with an incarcerated person, four counts of abusive sexual contact and one count of lying to the FBI.
When the verdict was read, Garcia took a deep sigh and then stood silently next to his lawyer. It took the jury 14 hours over three days to deliberate.
"This was very, very difficult," said Simeon Meyer of San Francisco, the jury foreman. "Some of us couldn't sleep. We realized the magnitude of this case."
The first three counts carry a maximum penalty of 15 years each, the next four carry a maximum of two years and the last one carries a maximum of eight years. He is scheduled to be sentenced before U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzales on March 8 and will remain out of custody until then.
His guilty verdict vindicates the three women – Melissa, Maria and Rachel – who testified that Garcia fondled and groped them, told them to undress, had them stroke him and sometimes took naked photos of them from 2019 to 2021. In the past year, nearly 40 other women have told KTVU that sexual abuse at FCI Dublin is real – whether it be at the hands of the warden, or another officer.
"What a relief for these women," attorney Jeff Bornstein, who represented some of the sex survivors, said outside court. "How awful it was for them. This is a bittersweet ending. Because they never should have had to go through this."
And the women went through a lot.
Garcia was found guilty of digitally penetrating Melissa three times in the bathroom and in a warehouse, he showed her pictures of his penis and he took two photos of her naked on all fours in a friend's cell room after instructing her to insert a candy cane in her vagina.
Garcia was found guilty of putting Maria's hands on his penis in the laundry room and touching her breasts in her cell.
And Garcia was found guilty of kissing Rachel, grabbing her buttocks and then taking her photos without consent during video sex chats with her when she was living at a halfway house under the control of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons in the fall of 2021.
Outside court, Meyer said that no one on the jury believed Garcia's stories, describing them as convoluted and implausible. The only question two jurors had to ponder, Meyer said, was to differentiate between him having sexual penetration with some of the women and just having sexual contact.
To sort out the charges, Meyer said his fellow jurors were deliberate about their queries, categorizing the pros and cons about Garcia – like his 30-year career – and the fact that he was full of "hubris and arrogance."
Ultimately, Meyer said the jury decided Garcia's stories had so many "inconsistencies." It never once dawned on the jury not to believe the women as they were convicted felons.
"That didn't even cross our minds," Meyer said.
On a personal note, he said that there were so many naked and sexually explicit photos of Garcia's penis and some of the women, it was hard to look at all of them for long durations. He said he put his notebook up at times to block the computer images being beamed into his jury box.
Meyer said he realized this case was bigger than just one warden at one prison.
"I hope this sends a message to others," Meyer said.
For his part, Garcia categorically denied any sexual activity with any woman in prison – and he refused speaking with KTVU on several occasions outside court.
During closing arguments, his defense attorney, James Reilly, started off by telling the jury that his client was "not guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty."
Reilly also said the women who testified weren't credible because they were convicted criminals. And he said the lack of video evidence to support what the women alleged should be taken into great account.
All sexual activity between a prison worker and incarcerated people is illegal. There is no scenario in which an incarcerated person can give consent.
Long before the official jury verdict came in, Garcia had already been convicted in the court of public opinion.
The updates of his trial have been circulating on the internet, word of mouth and on U.S. Bureau of Prisons Facebook pages.
William Meyer worked for the BOP for more than 20 years, retiring 18 months ago from a federal prison in Seattle. He worked with Garcia over the years, first meeting him in the 1990s.
He said that most prison employees knew Garcia was a problem – stemming from the time he started "messing with someone's wife" when he worked at Inglewood prison in 1996.
"He's always been that guy," Meyer said. "This is the car accident you always knew was going to happen."
Bob Hood, a former warden at the U.S. ‘Supermax’ prison in Florence, Colo., and the former chief of Internal Affairs for the entire federal prison system, does not personally know Garcia.
But he told KVU that he conducted thousands of investigations concerning prison employees throughout the country and never investigated a case like Garcia's, where he took naked photos of a woman to document her behavior.
"The Garcia conviction is a landmark case for the criminal justice system," Hood said. "Prisoners abused by staff is unacceptable… Garcia is a disgrace to all 35,000 federal Bureau of Prison employees working throughout our country. Garcia lost our trust and the trust of 160,000 inmates whom we serve."
Garcia is one of five correctional officers to be charged with sex crimes at the all-women's prison and the highest ranking federal prison official to be arrested on suspicion of these crimes.
Three have pleaded guilty; and one of them – the prison chaplain – was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Garcia is the first of the five to go to trial.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, chairman of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, on Tuesday will unveil the results of his group's 8-month bipartisan investigation into sexual abuse of women in the country's federal prisons.
A livestream of the 6:30 a.m. PST hearing in Washington, D.C., will be available online here.
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