A former Nebraska State Probation Office drug technician who slipped a drug dealer information and falsely reported the dealer had taken and passed drug tests in exchange for money got federal prison time Wednesday.
Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf said Victor Ramirez was the second ex-state probation employee to come before him in two months after grievously violating the trust of the system.
In November, Kopf gave Thomas Peterson nine years in prison for using his position to sexually exploit women he supervised.
"It ought to be considered to be an enormous embarrassment to the state of Nebraska," the judge said.
Peterson's case was far more serious, he said, but what Ramirez did could have resulted in significant harm to people had the information been used for nefarious purposes.
While working at the Nebraska State Probation Office in Lexington, Ramirez took $400 cash four or five times last year from a longtime friend who was on probation. He took the money in exchange for searching license plate numbers and arrest warrants, and for falsely saying the probationer had provided clean urine and breath samples when he hadn't been tested, Kopf said at Wednesday's hearing.
The friend came forward about what Ramirez had done and wore a wire in meetings with him, trying to get a deal on new charges.
When confronted, Ramirez immediately admitted what he had done and estimated he had accepted $2,000 to $2,400.
"It does seem to me that I need to be very concerned about general deterrence," Kopf said. "Which in plain speaking means to send a signal to every damn state probation office employee that you're going to get hammered if you engage in (such) conduct."
Kopf sentenced Ramirez to 18 months in prison, plus two years of supervised release.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan Everett had recommended a year in prison, the low end of federal guidelines, saying Ramirez also lost his job and is now a convicted felon.
"I don't think any probation officer out there would look at that as a slap on the wrist," he said.
Omaha defense attorney Bill Eustice said Ramirez's sole motivation was to help his parents, who needed the money. His client realized it was wrong, he said, but he didn't realize it could be dangerous. Some of the information was available on the Internet.
"He should've known better," said Eustice. "Obviously a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and obviously Mr. Ramirez created a weak link in the criminal justice system."
Ramirez was indicted in April on six counts of interfering with commerce under color of official right and pleaded guilty to one. He said he knows what he did was wrong.
"I take full responsibility for my actions. At the time, I didn't know I was putting people in danger," said Ramirez, who worked at the State Probation Office from Sept. 3, 2013, until Jan. 13, 2016.