Prison guard guilty of taking bribe from cartel leader

Juan Saenz-Tamez

A jury has found a former Beaumont correctional supervisor guilty of federal violations in the Eastern District of Texas for providing a cell phone to a cartel leader imprisoned at the private prison facility, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston Dec. 15. 

Donald Roy Kelly, 43, was found guilty by a jury of providing a prison inmate with a prohibited object and bribery of a public official following a three-day trial before U.S. District Judge Marcia Crone, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office. The jury reached its verdict at about 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 14.

Information presented in court indicated that Kelly was an evening shift supervisory corrections officer at the LaSalle Unit, a downtown Jefferson County jail, in late 2014 and early 2015. Juan Francisco Saenz-Tamez, then leader of the Gulf Cartel, was brought to the LaSalle Unit pending his trial for federal drug trafficking offenses in October 2014. Once at the LaSalle Unit and in Kelly's custody, Kelly approached Saenz-Tamez and corruptly offered a cell phone to the inmate in exchange for money. Kelly reportedly engaged other individuals to assist him in the scheme, and one of them purchased the cell phone Kelly provided to Saenz-Tamez. Additionally, Kelly had fast food brought into the LaSalle Unit for Saenz-Tamez, and Kelly and his co-conspirators reportedly attempted to organize the cartel leader's escape. Saenz-Tamez then directed individuals who attempted to transfer money to Kelly in payment for his corrupt acts. Ultimately the cell phone was seized from Saenz-Tamez on Jan. 3, 2015.  

Federal investigators looking into the large-scale trafficking of illegal drugs from Mexico into the Eastern District of Texas identified Saenz-Tamez, also known as “Comandante 103,” among other monikers, as the Gulf Cartel leader. He was indicted by a federal grand jury Sep. 5, 2013, and charged with conspiracy with intent to distribute cocaine, conspiracy with intent to distribute marijuana and conspiracy to money launder. Federal agents arrested Saenz-Tamez on Oct. 9, 2014, while he was shopping in Edinburg, Texas. He pleaded guilty on Jan. 13, 2015, and was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison on June 30, 2015, by U.S. District Judge Marcia A. Crone. In addition, he was ordered to pay a money judgment of $100 million.

Following Saenz-Tamez's guilty plea, then-U.S. Attorney John Malcolm Bales said the case was particularly noteworthy for several reasons, among those the “eye-popping” quantities Saenz-Tamez was responsible for distributing.

“Saenz-Tamez admitted in court he is responsible for the distribution of half a ton of cocaine, at least 90 tons of marijuana, and his group … the Gulf Cartel … money laundered over $100 million in drug proceeds," Bales said in during a January 2015 press conference. 

Kelly was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of providing Saenz-Tamez with the cell phone in April 2016.

Under federal statutes, Kelly faces up to 15 years in federal prison at sentencing. Sentencing will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors, the U.S. Attorney's Office stated in the Dec. 15 news release. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Marshals Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Craft and Christopher T. Tortorice.