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Santa Barbara County sheriff's employees exchanged candy, perks for sexual favors from inmates, documents show
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Santa Barbara County sheriff's employees exchanged candy, perks for sexual favors from inmates, documents show

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Details of alleged abuse by two Santa Barbara County sheriff's custody employees are revealed in court documents filed in Superior Court, accusing the men of using their positions inside the Main Jail to gain sexual favors from female inmates in exchange for candy and other items. 

Gabriel Castro, 47, of Ventura and Salvador Vargas, 34, of Santa Maria were arrested Friday, Feb. 21, on sex-related charges following an 18-month investigation, according to sheriff's spokeswoman Raquel Zick. 

Castro turned himself in at Ventura County Jail that Friday, and was booked on charges of forcible sexual penetration by a foreign object and sexual activity in a detention facility. 

Vargas was taken into custody on a warrant at his Santa Maria home the same day and booked at Santa Barbara County Jail on charges of forcible oral copulation and sexual activity in a detention facility.

Bail amounts for both suspects were set at $100,000. 

At the time of their arrest, Vargas and Castro were on paid administrative leave since September 2018, according to Zick. 

The internal investigation into Vargas and Castro began in August 2018 and developed into two separate investigations that looked at alleged crimes occurring around the same time involving intertwined witnesses, Zick said. 

Following an inmate complaint, Detective Travis Henderson was assigned to investigate Castro and Vargas on Oct. 23, 2018, according to court documents that include jail reports, claims made by several witnesses and three alleged victims who were incarcerated at the Main Jail where both suspects worked. 

Castro was hired in July 2002 and worked as a custody deputy, according to Zick, while Vargas was hired in April 2018 as a social worker/discharge planner. 

Vargas' job included, among other things, helping inmates sign up for treatment programs. 

Witnesses have claimed Vargas would offer candy and toiletries or enrollment into treatment programs in exchange for female inmates exposing themselves or masturbating in front of him, according to court documents. 

One inmate, identified as "Victim-1," told Henderson that Vargas asked her to expose her breasts during a conversation about getting into a residential treatment program. She declined but lifted up her nightgown to expose her thigh after Vargas persisted, in order to appease him. 

According to court documents, Vargas forced "Victim-1" to perform oral sex as he drove her to a program at Bethel House in Santa Barbara on Aug. 7, 2018, and later gave her $10 for cigarettes after dropping her off. 

"I'm the one who got you out of jail," he reportedly told her. "You owe me." 

Forensics personnel inspected "Victim-1's" unwashed clothes for DNA, but court records show no evidence was discovered. 

Henderson corroborated her story using tracking data from her GPS monitoring device, which showed the alleged incident occurred in the parking lot of a pharmacy located on State Street. 

Similar allegations were made against Castro. 

At one point, Castro gave his son a tour of the jail and introduced him to female inmates, including one who was on the toilet, according to a witness. 

One inmate, identified as "Victim-2," told Henderson that Castro allegedly penetrated her vagina with his fingers through the food slot of the door to her isolation cell. 

"Victim-2" also told the detective that, upon her release from jail, Castro offered to "take her home, take her clothes off and see her naked," court documents show. Believing that Castro would find out where she lived, "Victim-2" ran from her probation terms out of fear of him.

Another inmate, identified as "Victim-3," alleged that she witnessed Castro and Vargas watch female inmates masturbate in exchange for items. A cellphone she voluntarily provided to Henderson allegedly showed pictures of her posing in lingerie while holding a gun, which she planned to show to Vargas. 

When interviewed by an investigator, Vargas "adamantly" denied the allegations, court documents show. 

After conferring with his attorney, Castro declined to give a voluntary statement to investigators.

Custody records show Castro remains in Ventura County Jail, while Vargas posted bail Friday, according to Zick. 

As of Wednesday, court dates had not been scheduled for either man. 

COLLECTION: Most Wanted in Santa Barbara County

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