Investigators are focusing on whether a corrections officer at the Metropolitan Correctional Center helped smuggle a gun to an inmate, as a lockdown at the facility enters its sixth day, legal sources tell News 4.
Defense lawyers representing MCC inmates that were questioned by authorities say the focus appears to be on that theory, and the subsequent investigation has left them unable to see their clients.
These inmates – now potential witnesses in the investigation – tell their attorneys that authorities are trying to both confirm the theory and, if true, find the weapon.
That hunt for the weapon has forced an extensive search of the facility, both common areas and individual cells, and has prompted federal officials to bring in out-of-town teams to assist with the search. In the meantime, inmates say they are being denied access to phones, computers and showers, and are getting cold sandwiches shoved through doors for food.
The facility, the Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Attorney's Office all declined to comment on the tip that an officer may be involved. Calls to the officers union have not been returned.
The top federal public defender in Manhattan, while not commenting directly on the gun theory, described the lockdown itself as "inhumane" and "unconstitutional."
"It's totally unacceptable and it's part of a long history of mismanagement at the MCC," said David Patton, executive director of the Federal Defenders of New York. "One of the big problems is a complete lack of transparency and explanation for what's going on."
The MCC has been under scrutiny since accused child sex abuser Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide in his cell. Two BOP officers were later arrested for allegedly forging documents that they had checked on Epstein, when prosecutors said the guards were sleeping and shopping on their computers. The have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The MCC currently houses celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti, who is accused of stealing from client Stormy Daniels and separately was convicted of shaking down Nike. Lawrence Ray, the one-time informant against former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik who is now accused of sexually abusing college aged girls, is also currently at the MCC. Ray has denied the allegations.
Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was also housed at the MCC before his conviction.
It was not clear how long the search and the lockdown at the MCC were set to last. The BOP says about 700 inmates are housed at the MCC.
"Even if it is true it's no excuse for shutting the entire place down. They just need to get their act together," Patton said of the smuggling theory. "If this were a private business they'd be bankrupt by now. It's like The Three Stooges over there."