New York Correction Officers and 15 Others Charged with Conspiring to Accept Bribes & Smuggling into Rikers Island

Three criminal complaints were unsealed 14.01.2020 in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, charging 21 defendants with conspiring to bribe correction officers employed by the New York City Department of Corrections (“DOC”) as part of narcotics smuggling conspiracies.  Three defendants remain at large.  The initial appearances for 12 of the defendants are scheduled 14.01.2020 before United States Magistrate Judge Ramon E.  Reyes, Jr. 

Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), and Margaret M. Garnett, Commissioner, New York City Department of Investigation (DOI), announced the charges.

“The corruption of correction officers presents a security risk to the entire jail population, and a potential danger to the residents of our communities,” stated United States Attorney Donoghue.  “We will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute those who place their personal enrichment over the public duties they have sworn to perform.”
Mr Donoghue thanked Homeland Security Investigations, New York, and the New York City Police Department for their assistance in the investigations.

“The correction officers charged today allegedly accepted bribes to sneak contraband onto Rikers Island—propagating behaviour that has the potential to harm other officers and prisoners alike. The smuggling of contraband into our jails is a common Hollywood storyline, but while there’s an element a fiction in many a screenplay, there’s nothing fake about this real-life threat to our correctional facilities. Along with our partners at the DOI, we are dedicated to confronting this issue head-on,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney.

“Contraband smuggling enterprises have long plagued City jail facilities.  The arrests today are another example of a pattern in which inmates and outside conspirators identify correction officers vulnerable to corruption, and use them to carry drugs and other illegal substances into the jails,” stated DOI Commissioner Garnett.  “These schemes threaten the safety of fellow officers and other inmates and undermine order and discipline in the City’s jails.  DOI will continue to prioritize safety and integrity in the jails, and continue to relentlessly pursue those who threaten it.  DOI thanks its partners at the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York and the FBI for their partnership in the pursuit of these individuals charged today in our shared effort to root out criminal activity in the City’s correction system.”

Since early 2019, the FBI and DOI have been investigating contraband rings involving the payment and receipt of bribes by DOC officers in exchange for transporting marijuana, the narcotic Suboxone and K2 (a synthetic cannabinoid) and an unauthorized smartphone into the George R. Vierno Center and the Otis Bantum Correctional Center on Rikers Island.

As set forth in the complaints, the defendants conspired to smuggle the contraband into Rikers Island facilities with the assistance of New York City Correction Officers. Other defendants who were incarcerated for unrelated offences, arranged for marijuana and other contraband to be packaged and secretly delivered to correction officers by more defendants.

The correction officers allegedly received thousands of dollars in bribes to smuggle the drugs past DOC security, for distribution inside the Rikers Island facilities.

As a part of their investigations, law enforcement officers reviewed financial records related to online money transfer tools, such as CashApp, conducted surveillance and reviewed recorded telephone calls made by defendants who used coded language in their conversations.

For example, on February 19, 2019, an inmate at the Vierno facility called a co-conspirator to discuss supplying the inmate and Albert with marijuana:

“I’m trying to get, um four ‘Oakland Raider jerseys’ .  “…’ Got Pink Panties’ on the line right now, you heard?  Gangsta. You just gotta make it to the ‘Jungle’ to drop it off to them and, more or less, we lit from there.”

In recorded telephone calls between Rivas and a co-conspirator in October 2019, Rivas requested a ‘joint’ with a Facetime application.  In a subsequent telephone conversation, Rivas asked West whether the joint is a Size 5 or Size 6 , and West replied that it was a Size 6, referring to an iPhone 6 that was delivered to the Vierno facility the previous night.

On October 25, 2019, a DOC Special Search Team seized an iPhone 6 and an iPhone charger from Rivas’s laundry bag and 12 clear plastic bags containing marijuana from his person.

The charges in the complaint are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.  If convicted, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment.

The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s Public Integrity Section.  Assistant United States Attorneys Nathan Reilly, Margaret Gandy, Drew Rolle, Alicia Washington and Virginia Nguyen are in charge of the prosecution.