Racketeering investigation nets charges for former prison workers

Two Crossroads women were among more than one dozen prison employees arrested and indicted this week as part of the first phase of an ongoing four-year racketeering investigation.

Former Texas Department of Criminal Justice correctional officer Christy Nesloney, 26, of Cuero, and former contract employee Kimberly Marie Koenig, 31, of Victoria, were charged in the federal indictment with providing inmates at the McConnell Unit in Beeville with cellphones for money.

They are also charged with possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute it to the inmates, according to the 23-page indictment unsealed in the Texas Southern District of federal court Monday.

The investigation started in 2009 after law enforcement learned inmates were using the cellphones to orchestrate the Aryan Circle Gang's plan to smuggle vehicles across the Mexico border to sell to the Mexican cartel.

That resulted in 14 suspected members and associates of the Raza Unida street and prison gang being charged in December 2010 with committing violent acts to support racketeering, according to a news release.

The violent acts were home invasions, shootings and conspiracy to commit murder. Officers also seized about 13 pounds of crystal methamphetamine with an estimated street value of $300,000, seven assault rifles, 14 pistols, five shot guns, five bullet-proof vests and about 1,000 rounds of ammunition from the gang.

Brian M. Moskowitz, the special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations, said unfortunately the serious contraband or corruption issue is not one unique to Texas.

"We expect criminals to be criminals, but we don't expect those that are there to make sure they carry out their punishment to be a part of the problem," Moskowitz said.

He said an organization like TDCJ, which he estimated has some 40,000 employees, may struggle to ensure each one operates with integrity.

The McConnell Unit can house 2,900 inmates, and it has long been one of the most troublesome for illegal cellphone use in the Texas prison system, a problem that was best illustrated five years ago when a death row inmate made threatening calls to a state senator, according to the Associated Press.

Although Victoria County Jail is subject to different kinds of regulations and a majority of its population is awaiting trial, officials are able to keep most contraband out, Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor said. He said jailers do not bring their personal cellphones into the facility and they regularly check cells and mail for non-approved items.

The jail has a capacity for 540 inmates.

"If you were to ask, 'Is it contraband free?' I would have to say that I believe it is," O'Connor said. "We make every effort ... but I guess you could say if there's a will, there's a way."

He said they stopped offering inmates pineapples after inmates began letting the fruit's juice sit for so long that it became an alcoholic beverage.

A jailer was last caught smuggling something illegal into the facility a few years ago. If an incident like that were to occur again, the officer would not only be dismissed, but charges would be filed against him, O'Connor said.