Two correction officers, a cook and several inmates were arrested in what New York City officials are calling the biggest contraband takedown at Rikers Island in more than a decade.
Seventeen suspects were charged with multiple crimes, including bribery, receiving bribes and sale of controlled substances, in a series of four indictments unsealed Thursday, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark announced. The two correction officers and the cook accused in the scheme were also charged with criminal misconduct.
"I want the violence to stop, I want it to be a safe place to work and for those that have to be there," Clark said.
The city's correction department commissioner, Joseph Ponte, said the agency was "taking aggressive steps to stem the flow of contraband into our facilities."
Inmates at Rikers Island recruited Officer Kevin McKoy to bring scalpels into the Anna M. Kross Center, one of the jails on the island, in September 2014, authorities said. McKoy, who eventually told investigators he was paid thousands of dollars to smuggle in the weapons, was arrested with 17 scalpels that he bound together with duct tape to avoid discovery by the jail's metal detectors. He is also accused of bringing such contraband as a synthetic marijuana and an opioid, suboxone, into the jail from September to November 2015.
"It was like a corner drug operation, but far more lucrative," said Mark Peters, commissioner of the city's Department of Investigation.
Clark said McKoy "tarnished his badge" by bringing scalpels into the jails, even continuing to do so after another officer was slashed in the face.
An attorney for McKoy declined to comment on the case.
After McKoy was arrested, the inmates, seeking to continue a "criminal underground economy" recruited another officer, Mohammad Sufian, to bring in synthetic marijuana and tobacco, Peters said. The drugs and weapons sold inside the jail for more than five times their street value, he said.
Sufian, who was arrested in February after investigators found more than 60 grams of synthetic marijuana in his socks, was fired from his post last month. His attorney didn't immediately respond to a comment request.
Peters said Thursday that he had spoken with the correction department about its metal detectors, known as magnetometers, which sometimes won't be set off if metal objects are wrapped in tape. But he declined to say what, if any, measures were being taken to address it.
"If you package it with enough stuff, it will sometimes foil the magnetometers, sometimes not," he said.
City officials said they have deployed some new scanners that would be able to detect weapons, like wrapped scalpels, and are working with state legislators to try to amend a law that would allow them to use body scanners, similar to those used at airports, for visitors and staff.
The union that represents correction officers said it has "no tolerance for anyone who jeopardizes the safety and security of our brother and sister officers," but that its members are innocent until proven guilty and are entitled to a vigorous defense.
The other people charged in the indictments are accused of helping to transfer money or smuggle drugs into the jail, authorities said.