OAKLAND, Calif. - A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced a former officer at the Federal Correctional Institute in Dublin to one year of home detention after he pleaded guilty to having sex with three incarcerated women but then later became a government informant to help bring down others, including the former warden.
Ross Klinger is now the sixth prison guard – out of eight – to be charged, convicted and sentenced for sex crimes at FCI Dublin – and his plea agreement, which was placed under seal, shows that he actually admitted to having intercourse with the women, which many of the other officers involved in the sex abuse scandal did not. The federal statute is technically called sexual abuse of a ward.
It is by far, the most lenient sentences of all the officers. And it drew quick condemnation from the women and their advocates.
That's because despite his crimes, which included preying on their emotional states and then threatening to harm them, Klinger was lauded by federal prosecutors as being extremely helpful to the government in helping them break the "blue wall of silence."
In sentencing him, U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said she wished she could have sent Klinger to prison longer, but the sentencing guidelines don't allow her.
She emphasized that his home detention is really just that; he may not leave his house and must wear an ankle bracelet. He will be on supervised release for five years. And in court documents, Klinger said he wants to move from Riverside, Calif., to Pennsylvania. He must also register as a sex offender.
"This is a particularly difficult case for me," Gonzalez Rogers said. "The conduct was particularly horrifying to the victims."
But the judge also acknowledged Klinger's cooperation with federal authorities – according to prosecutors, he has been the only one to do so. He was the only correctional officer to help the government and corroborate what the women said.
The information that Klinger provided was "pivotal" in bringing forth charges against former Warden Ray Garcia, who was sentenced to nearly six years in prison, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Mollie Priedman. Klinger was supposed to testify in Garcia's trial, but did not. Klinger's behind-the-scene corroboration also helped with the charges against another officer, John Bellhouse, to roughly five years in prison.
"Mr. Klinger was the first cooperator," Gonzalez Rogers said. "And it's not clear to me that any of this would have been uncovered without his cooperation."
His federal public defender, John Reichmuth, said that Klinger is now a recovering alcoholic and "believe it or not, is a good person."
Speaking publicly for the first time before the court, Klinger said that being prosecuted was the best thing that happened to him: It got him sober, and it allowed him to help others.
"I deeply regret my actions," Klinger said, apologizing to his family and to the women he abused. "I take full responsibility."
Klinger pleaded guilty nearly two years ago and his sentencing seems to have been delayed for so long because he was providing help to the government.
Klinger was charged with the crimes in 2021, which occurred in 2020.
Two years ago, KTVU interviewed one of his victims, Andrea Reyes, of Perris, Riverside County, who explained in a rare, firsthand account that Klinger obtained access to her private health files while she was incarcerated at the all-women’s prison 40 miles east of San Francisco.
She told KTVU that Klinger saw that she suffered from bipolarity, borderline personality disorder and PTSD and read about issues she’s been dealing with since high school. Then, she said, he used that information to manipulate her.
"He’s like, ‘We have access to your files,’" Reyes recounted him saying. "So he knew my whole life. He knew where I was vulnerable and what to use against me. And I don’t feel it’s OK for other women to go through it."
She knows he went through her file because "he showed it to me himself."
"Why didn’t you tell me you have PTSD?" she recounted Klinger asking her. "And I told him, I’m like, ‘What? How are you looking at that?’" He’s like, ‘We have access to your files.’"
What hurts the most is that she thought Klinger actually cared about her. He promised to marry her and to have children with her when she got out.
"I feel like he literally would pick the ones he felt were weak," she said. "I believed him. I was alone and I was vulnerable."
Reyes’ claim of private record violations added a shocking new element to the already toxic allegations at FCI Dublin of sexual abuse.
She did not attend court on Wednesday, but an attorney read a statement on her behalf.
Her statement said that the effects on her were "unquantifiable" and she did not have adequate words to discuss what it was like to be torn away from her children and manipulated by an officer whose extensive training seemed to teach him how to specifically manipulate her.
"I hope this opens the community's eyes," her statement read.
Another of his victims, identified as M.R., who did not attend his sentencing, previously told KTVU through her lawyer that Klinger sexually abused and then told her that he would kill her if she snitched to anyone that they were having sex.
M.R., who filed a civil suit against Klinger, said that he would come to work drunk and "regularly reeked of alcohol." He yelled at the women and cussed at them, telling them they were felons who needed to be "treated like s---."
A month into her shift, Klinger started being nice to M.R. He brought her and her friends Starbucks and fast food. He told her he cared for her and wanted to be with her.
In April 2020, the two were walking around the grounds and Klinger performed oral sex on her in a storage warehouse. They had sex at least five times while another woman served as a lookout.
These sexual encounters continued until October 2020 when Klinger was transferred to a federal prison in San Diego.
After Klinger was transferred to San Diego, he kept emailing M.R. and talking to her via video, using the alias, Juan Garcia, according to both the civil suit and the criminal charges.
He put money in her commissary account and gave funds to her mother.
When M.R. was released to a halfway house, Klinger called, texted and Snapchatted her. Phone records reveal 427 calls and 497 texts during a one-month period.
But Klinger began threatening M.R., giving her $6,000 and an iPhone 12 to keep her quiet, according to the suit.
M.R. was sent back to FCI Dublin for violating her parole, and there, she suffered retaliation.
Klinger told her that if she told anyone aobut the sex, he'd use a pitchfork on her or hang her to death. He told her that he'd also kill her family.
He also told her that he looked in the prison computer and knew all about her.
She asked for mental health services and was denied – which is a requirement of federal law.
She started cutting herself and "spiraled into severe depression."
Kara Janssen, who represents many women who sued FCI Dublin over sex abuse claims, called the sentencing "infuriating."
Jessica Pride represents M.R., who she said would be devastated at the light sentence.
"Klinger should thank his lucky stars that he was the first disgraced officer to come to the table," Pride said. "I don't know how any amount of time could be enough when you rape and take advantage of people you are paid to take care of."
Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at email@example.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez