Worker pleads guilty to molesting inmates at US women’s prison :: WRAL.com

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A federal prison worker on Thursday pleaded guilty to sexually abusing at least two inmates at a California women’s prison, the first conviction in a spate of arrests at a prison known to inmates and workers as the “rape club.”

Ross Klinger, 36, is one of four employees, including the warden and chaplain, who have been arrested over the past seven months for sexually abusing inmates at the federal correctional facility in Dublin, California. Several other workers in Dublin are under investigation.

Klinger, who worked as a recycling technician in Dublin, pleaded guilty to three counts of sexually assaulting a station in Oakland federal court. He faces up to 15 years in prison, although other similar cases have had sentences ranging from three months to two years. Klinger remains at large pending conviction. A status conference is planned for May 11th.

Klinger was placed on administrative leave in April 2021 and remains “currently employed by the Bureau of Prisons,” the agency said Friday. He was previously allowed to be transferred to another federal prison facility pending investigation.

Klinger signed a plea agreement in connection with his guilty plea, but the document has not been released publicly. A court official said it was sealed. Because the agreement isn’t public, it’s not clear if it includes a clause obliging him to cooperate with the authorities. In a court filing last month, prosecutors said some of their evidence related to both the Klinger and Warden Ray J. Garcia cases.

Klinger’s attorney, John Paul Reichmuth, declined to comment.

An Associated Press investigation released this week revealed a permissive and toxic prison culture that has facilitated years of sexual misconduct at the hands of predatory staffers and cover-ups that have largely kept the abuse out of the public eye.

FCI Dublin, about 34 kilometers east of Oakland, opened in 1974. It was converted into one of six federal prison facilities for women only in 2012.

Klinger was arrested last June and accused of sexually abusing at least two inmates between March and September 2020, including in a warehouse and in a shipping container on prison grounds while another inmate acted as a lookout.

Klinger told the women he wanted to marry them and father their children, even proposing to one of them with a diamond ring after she was released into a transitional home, prosecutors said.

Another prisoner who was aware of the abuse reported Klinger to the Bureau of Prisons in June 2020, according to the FBI. A few months later, authorities approved his transfer to a federal prison in San Diego.

After the transfer, prosecutors said, Klinger contacted one of the victims through an email address he created with a fake name, sometimes sending suggestive messages related to sex acts. He wrote to the other woman on Snapchat that he loved her and was “willing to do anything for her.”

Questioned by investigators in April 2021, Klinger denied any wrongdoing but said his life was over as a result of the allegations and he was concerned about going to jail and being labeled a sex offender. Two months later he was arrested.

“Sexual misconduct by a ward, you can’t come back from that,” Klinger told investigators in an interview, according to court documents.

Another Dublin prison worker, Chaplain James Theodore Highhouse, is scheduled to plead guilty on February 23 to placing his penis on an inmate’s genitals, mouth and hand and masturbating in front of her in 2018 and 2019. Highhouse, 49, is also accused of lying to investigators when questioned about the abuse.

Warden Garcia, now retired, was arrested in September on charges of molesting an inmate and forcing her and another inmate to strip naked during his visits. Pictures he took of the women were found on his government-issued cell phone, prosecutors said.

John Russell Bellhouse, a prison security administrator, is due to be charged this month with allegations that he sexually abused an inmate he called his “girlfriend” from February to December 2020.

The federal prison system has been plagued by myriad crises in recent years, including sexual abuse and other widespread criminal activity among staff, a critically low staffing level that has hampered emergency response, the rapid spread of COVID-19, a failed response to the Pandemic and dozens of escapes.

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On Twitter, follow Michael Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak and Michael Balsamo at twitter.com/mikebalsamo1 and send confidential tips at https://www.ap.org/tips

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