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Drug Smuggling, Violence Continues to Plague Rikers Island

— February 4, 2020

Smuggling of contraband continues to be a problem at Rikers Island.

Following a probe by investigators beginning last year, six jail guards at New York City’s Rikers Island have been charged by federal prosecutors with accepting bribes from inmates to smuggle in cellphones and drugs.  The complex has endured chronic violence over the years and officials are hoping to shut it down and replace it with public facilities.

“Undercover agents discovered inmates bribing to get marijuana, suboxone, K2, and cellphones,” prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York announced.  According to investigators, “conversations spoken in code over the phone revealed that marijuana was referred to as ‘Oakland Raider jerseys, jail guards were ‘Pink Panties’ and cellphones were ‘joints.’”

“The smuggling of contraband into our jails is a common Hollywood story line, but while there’s an element of fiction in many a screenplay, there’s nothing fake about this real-life threat to our correctional facilities,” Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI)’s Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney said. “The inmates arranged for civilian accomplices to deliver marijuana and other contraband to the guards, who received thousands of dollars to smuggle the drugs past security.”

Drug Smuggling, Violence Continues to Plague Rikers Island
Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash

In October 2019, jail security officers seized a dozen bags of marijuana, and an iPhone charger from one of the guards, according to the prosecutors’ statement.  That same month, the New York City Council voted to close the Rikers Island complex by 2026 for an $8.7 billion package that would lead to the closing of four jails in total, replacing them with neighborhood gathering spaces.

“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.”

Contraband smuggling enterprises have long plagued City jail facilities.  The arrests…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 Margaret M. Garnett, Commissioner, New York City Department of Investigation (DOI).  “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.”

In 2018, more than fifteen Bloods members locked up at Rikers were caught with scalpel blades, marijuana and painkillers smuggled in by their contacts on the outside.  The blades and drugs would be wrapped in plastic or electrical tape and smuggled inside the body cavities of visitors.

“The defendants allegedly stoked the violence inside the jails by smuggling in scalpels and meting out slashings to inmates,” Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark said.


Six New York City Correction Officers and 15 Others Charged with Conspiring to Accept Bribes and Smuggle Contraband into Rikers Island Facilities

Six jail guards at New York’s Rikers Island charged with taking bribes, smuggling drugs

Gang members charged in Rikers Island contraband ring

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