OAKLAND, Calif. – A judge on Friday sentenced a former correctional manager at the all-women’s prison in Dublin to five years and three months behind bars in an ongoing sexual abuse scandal.
As U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonalez Rogers meted out the punishment, John Bellhouse, 40, stood silently, hands clasped behind his back, next to his two lawyers, only saying “Yes, your honor,” as his hearing began.
When asked if he wanted to address the court before he was sentenced, he stated: “No, your honor.”
He had no apparent supporters or family in the courtroom, and he has repeatedly avoided comment sought by KTVU.
Gonzalez Rogers noted that she went above sentencing guidelines in her decision, calling what Bellhouse did “predatory,” “manipulative” and a “callous abuse of power.”
She also criticized the Bureau of Prisons for seemingly not doing much to change the culture at FCI Dublin, as women continue to complain about sexual abuse there. The judge noted she had 40 civil suits against correctional officers accused of sexual abuse she needs to oversee next month.
In June, a jury found him guilty of five counts of sexual abuse of a ward and abusive sexual contact starting in 2019 while working at the Federal Correctional Institute in Dublin.
That’s when Bellhouse was convicted of abusing at least two women and accused of abusing at least three more. Some of that abuse included fingering the women’s genitals, receiving oral sex and touching their breasts and thighs.
Speaking through a Spanish-speaking interpreter, one of Bellhouse’s sexual assault survivors spoke in court.
“You have caused me a great deal of depression,” she said quietly.
She said she soon realized that Bellhouse was engaged in sexual encounters with other women, which made her feel sad and alone.
It was even more upsetting, she said, because no one in prison had treated her as well as Bellhouse did, which ultimately made her feel tricked and used in the end.
She has yet to tell her family what happened to her.
But she said she came to court, even though it was painfully difficult, to hopefully get some closure.
“What happened to me is never going to be erased,” she said through tears. “It remains as a memory for all my life.”
After she spoke, the judge thanked the woman for sharing her story, facing her fears and reminding her that nothing she did was her fault.
“Nothing I do today can undo what happened to you,” Gonzalez Rogers said. “But what we strive for in sentencing, among other things, is to try to protect people so this type of thing never happens a gain and punish people who engage in such criminal acts.”
His sentence is less than the 10 years federal prosecutors had sought.
“The defendant’s conduct is egregious,” Asst. U.S. Attorney Andrew Paulson told the judge.
Paulson said that Bellhouse’s modus operandi was to use contraband, like Starbucks coffee and yarn, to “endear the victims to acquiesce to abuse…and to keep them quiet.”
To date, Bellhouse has yet to apologize for his actions, Paulson noted, who also disputed claims that Bellhouse abused his power over women because he is gay.
In pre-sentencing motions, Bellhouse’s legal team revealed that his sexual orientation as a gay man and his difficult childhood should have been key reasons to seek leniency, and asked the judge to sentence him to no more than 2.5 years in prison.
Defense attorney Shaffy Moeel explained that her client wasn’t trying to “weaponize” his sexuality, but was merely to explain that living in the closet filled him with anxiety, low self-esteem and a “great deal of pain.”
The lack of acceptance he received in childhood isn’t a justification for the sexual abuse, Moeel said, but is being offered to give context to his mindset.
Bellhouse is one of eight correctional officers charges with sexual misconduct at FCI Dublin – the most of any prison in the United States. Seven, so far, have been found guilty.
The former warden, Ray Garcia, is the highest profile of the FCI Dublin officers to be charged and sentenced – Gonzalez Rogers ordered to serve nearly six years behind bars himself.
Garcia ended up apologizing in court, saying he never dealt with his sexual addiction, on sentencing day.
Earlier this month, Gonzalez Rogers sentenced former FCI Dublin food supervisor Andrew Jones to eight years in prison, the longest of the sentences.
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