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Chaplain at California women’s federal prison charged with sexual abuse of inmate

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A chaplain at an all-female federal prison in the East Bay area has been charged with repeatedly sexually abusing a woman incarcerated in the facility, authorities said Wednesday.

James Theodore Highhouse, a federal correctional worker at FCI Dublin, faces five federal charges — two counts of sexual abuse of a ward under his control in the prison, two counts of committing abusive sexual contact and one count of making false statements to FBI agents and the Department of Justice’s inspector general’s office.

The charges against Highhouse are the latest in a far-reaching investigation that has brought scrutiny to the prison and its staff. A former warden and two former prison guards have also been accused of sexually abusing women in their custody.

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The prison, located about 20 miles southeast of Oakland, opened in 1974. It was converted to an all-female facility in 2012, one of five such institutions in the federal correctional system, and currently houses about 750 women.

Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin served time at the facility for their roles in the college admissions bribery scandal.

Federal prosecutors have portrayed the prison as a place of rampant sexual abuse, where those in charge offer the women behind bars gifts and privileges in exchange for sex.

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Court records allege Highhouse’s offenses occurred between May 15, 2018, and Feb. 9, 2019.

Highhouse denied the charges, prosecutors said.

His arrest comes four months after Warden Ray J. Garcia was charged with repeatedly sexually assaulting one inmate, sexually harassing another and storing pictures on his Bureau of Prisons work computer that showed the first woman naked in her cell.

Garcia, 54, is accused of digitally penetrating a woman in the prison on multiple occasions while he was the associate warden. In that capacity, he had disciplinary authority over inmates.

According to the complaint, Garcia physically assaulted the woman and placed her hand on his genitals.

In June, Ross Klinger, a former correctional officer from Riverside, was charged with sexually abusing two inmates inside the prison. Prosecutors say Klinger, 36, later met one of the women at a San Diego halfway house, where he had sex with her and proposed marriage with a diamond ring.

John Bellhouse, 39, of Pleasanton, who was assigned as a safety administrator at the prison, engaged in sexual acts with an incarcerated woman last year and gave her special privileges and gifts, the U.S. attorney’s office alleged last month. He was placed on leave in March.

Law enforcement sources who were not authorized to discuss the wide-ranging probe at the prison publicly and requested anonymity said further charges may be coming.

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