Rikers Island

9 NYC Jails Workers Took Bribes to Smuggle in Drugs, Razor Blades, Alcohol: Prosecutors

Authorities alleged that one defendant pocketed over $40,000 in bribes between June 2019 and Sept. 2020

Rikers Island sign
Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

Nine current and former New York City Department of Correction workers were arrested Wednesday on charges alleging they took cash bribes to smuggle items including razor blades, drugs and alcohol into city jails in the last two years.

U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss in Manhattan said the workers accepted thousands of dollars in bribes.

"This alleged activity violated the defendants’ duties, and endangered the inmates they were charged to supervise and guard,” Strauss said in a release.

Seven individuals, ranging in age from 25 to 60, were arrested in New York, one in Pennsylvania and one in Virginia based on indictments returned against seven men and two women in Manhattan federal court.

Authorities alleged that one defendant pocketed over $40,000 in bribes between June 2019 and September 2020.

Department of Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett said the documents describing how guards and other employees, the majority working at the Rikers Island jail complex, were engaging in contraband smuggling and bribery “reflect the pernicious and damaging impact of corruption.”

“Correction officers and staff should protect the integrity of the jails, not promote lawlessness and violence by accepting bribes in return for trafficking drugs, scalpels, razor blades, cell phones, and other contraband — all highly valued, illegal items that undermine order in the jails and compromise the safety of other correction officers and inmates,” Garnett said.

The city is promising to hire hundreds of new correction officers after the I-Team's Sarah Wallace reported on current officers regularly being required to work triple shifts, often 24 hours straight with few to no breaks and little to no access to food or drinks.

William F. Sweeney Jr., who heads the FBI's New York office, said the defendants “risked the safety and security of their colleagues and others within the New York City Department of Correction when they carelessly decided to smuggle contraband into our jails.”

Separate indictments brought against the defendants described crimes over the last two years that led to the smuggling of scalpels, cellphones, large quantities of cigarettes, razors, marijuana and methamphetamine.

If convicted of charges including conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud, the defendants could each face a maximum of decades in prison, though convictions in these kinds of cases usually result in prison sentences of less than a decade.

The New York Times reports that four Rikers Island guards have been suspended after they allegedly failed to stop an inmate from harming himself in a jail cell.

In 2019, city lawmakers approved a plan to replace the Rikers Island complex by 2026 with four smaller jails. The complex was the scene of hundreds of stabbings annually during the 1980s and early 1990s.

In 2014, an investigation by The Associated Press produced descriptions of dozens of inmate deaths, including that of a homeless ex-Marine who essentially baked to death from an epileptic seizure in solitary confinement.

In 2019, a transgender woman who couldn't afford $500 bail was found dead from an epileptic seizure while in solitary confinement.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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