Bastrop, Texas – During a heated hearing in federal court Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack ordered allegations of sex trafficking at a Bastrop foster care facility to be forwarded to the Western District of Texas for possible child pornography and obstruction of justice charges.
Jack, who oversees a years-long federal lawsuit into systemic issues within the state’s foster care facility, sharply criticized the Texas Rangers and Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw, who concluded earlier this month that no wrongdoing had taken place at the now-shuttered The Refuge.
The state-licensed facility was supposed to provide care to girls between the ages of 11-17 who were rescued from sex trafficking.
Instead, according to federal court records, photographs of at least two girls were posted on social media by a staff member and later sold.
A now-former employee of The Refuge is also accused of providing drugs and alcohol to children at the facility, and staff members helped two children in their care run away from The Refuge, according to court filings.
“No question that there was selling of these pictures,” said Judge Jack.
The hybrid hearing included attorneys for multiple state agencies appearing both in person and via Zoom.
Judge Jack at one point threatened to hold an attorney in contempt of court for failing to hand over taped interviews with possible victims to federal court monitors.
Judge Jack also took issue with the Texas Rangers, stating that they don’t even know the criminal definition of sex trafficking or sexual abuse.
Court records, including filings entered into the record as recently as Monday, directly contradict McCraw’s letter to Governor Greg Abbott earlier this month that stated a Rangers investigation concluded there was no evidence the children had been victims of sex trafficking while at the facility.
McCraw’s letter was sent to Governor Abbott just days after state and federal officials were notified of possible issues at the facility.
The Refuge was ordered to close down immediately earlier this month and Jack noted Wednesday that 11 children were removed from its care.