Former private prison warden implicated in corruption scandal

The East Hidalgo Detention Center

Update: A federal judge set bond at $50,000 for former East Hidalgo County Detention Center Warden Elberto Bravo.

Bravo's wife and stepdaughter plan to put up the money, and he will be released once he's processed by the U.S. Marshal's Service.

Original Story

Federal agents have linked former East Hidalgo Detention Center Warden Elberto Bravo to the latest Hidalgo County corruption scandal.

Agents arrested Elberto E. Bravo, 55, of La Blanca on Friday, according to federal court records. He appeared in federal court Tuesday morning.

Action 4 News first reported that federal agents arrested Bravo.

Attorney Oscar Vega, who represents Bravo, couldn TMt be reached for comment Monday or Tuesday. Bravo's family declined to comment Tuesday morning.

Tuesday's court hearing kicked off yet another high-profile prosecution in Hidalgo County, where a dizzying succession of corruption scandals have captivated the county since December 2012 " most notably the Panama Unit and the conviction of former Sheriff Lupe Trevio for accepting money from a drug trafficker.

Bravo ran the East Hidalgo Detention Center, a privately owned and operated jail in La Villa. LCS Corrections Services removed Bravo in February 2012 amid a federal investigation.

It remains unclear whether or not that investigation is linked to the current case.

Bravo participated in a conspiracy to bribe former Hidalgo County Justice of the Peace Melo Ochoa, according to the criminal complaint against him. He was charged with acting as an accessory after the fact.

The conspiracy started in February 2010, when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration started investigating a major-league cocaine trafficking organization.

Federal agents asked the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office to conduct a traffic stop on a car driven by Luis Martinez-Gallegos. When law enforcement officers searched the vehicle, they found 89 kilograms of cocaine.

Justice of the Peace Jose Ismael "Melo" Ochoa set bond at $2.5 million, according to the criminal complaint.

The criminal complaint details how at least three people " who all became federal informants " worked together to help Martinez-Gallegos avoid federal prosecution.

They knew that Martinez-Gallegos was a Mexican citizen who didn't have legal permission to stay in the United States. If they arranged for him to be released on bond, the immigration system would deport him.

Together, they put together $100,000 to pay off the key players required to lower the bond and have Martinez-Gallegos deported.

"CI #1 stated that this money was supposed to take care of all of the costs associated with having Gallegos deported, including paying the judge, the attorney, the CI #3 and any other individual involved in the scheme," according to the criminal complaint. "And to secure that Gallegos' bond would be posted."

Bravo and the third confidential informant met with the unnamed attorney, who accepted the cash, according to the criminal complaint.

The scheme apparently worked.

Ochoa slashed the bond from $2.5 million to just $50,000 on March 23, 2010.

Martinez-Gallegos was deported to Mexico.

Bravo isn't the only person charged with participating in the conspiracy.

Federal agents arrested Sylvia San Juanita Vasquez last week. She was also charged with acting as an accessory after the fact.

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