Six New York City corrections officers found themselves in handcuffs Tuesday in connection with a drug-smuggling ring on Rikers Island, federal prosecutors announced.
The allegedly dirty half-dozen were among 21 individuals indicted for the scheme to import and distribute marijuana, synthetic marijuana (K2) and the narcotic suboxone into jail facilities on the island since early 2019, according to U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue of the Eastern District of New York.
The corrections officers received cash bribes paid through money transfer tools such as CashApp, from the recipients or individuals connected to them, prosecutors noted.
“The corruption of correction officers presents a security risk to the entire jail population, and a potential danger to the residents of our communities,” Donoghue said.
Members of the FBI and the city’s Department of Investigation became aware of the contraband rings early last year and launched a probe into the activity. The federal Homeland Security Investigation New York office and the NYPD also participated in the crackdown.
“Contraband smuggling enterprises have long plagued city jail facilities,” DOI Commissioner Margaret Garnett said Tuesday. “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.”
Federal prosecutors identified the six indicted correction officers as Queens residents Darrington James, 30, Patrick Legerme, 29, and Aldrin Livingston, 31; Brooklyn’s Michael Murray, 28, and Christopher Walker, 28; and Bellport, NY resident Angel Rodriguez, 23. According to the charges, each of them allegedly accepted thousands of dollars in bribes to get the contraband items past security checkpoints.
Five other indicted suspects are Rikers Island inmates incarcerated for other offenses: Comstock, NY resident James Albert, 43; Bronx resident Clarence Brooks, 39; Brooklyn’s Kyle Charles, 32; Rome, NY resident John Mohammed, 27; and Manhattan’s Christopher Rivas, 32.
Federal agents said they arranged for marijuana and other contraband items to be packaged and secretly delivered by several other co-defendants living on the outside to the allegedly corrupt correction cops.
The delivery agents, as identified by the Department of Justice, were: Manhattan’s Celena Burgess, 43, and Styles Shepard, 24; Freeport, NY resident Veronica Jagdeo, 24; Bronx’s Jorcetta King, 33, and Aboudou Krigger, 25; Queens’ Jonathan Medina, 29; and Brooklyn’s Tony West, 24.
Law enforcement sources said the defendants, in arranging contraband deliveries, used coded language in an attempt to trick anyone who might be listening. As it turns out, investigators were keeping tabs by intercepting the phone conversations as part of the investigation — and they were able to crack their code.
In one instance, on Feb. 19, an inmate at Rikers’ George R. Vierno Center called a co-conspirator to discuss supplying the inmate and Albert with “four Oakland Raider jerseys.” The investigators ascertained that they were referencing marijuana.
On another occasion, in a recorded conversation between Rivas and a co-conspirator in October 2019, Rivas asked for a “joint,” which was determined by investigators to be a cellphone, which inmates are banned from having. In a follow-up conversation, Rivas asked West whether the “joint” was a Size 5 or 6 (the size being an iPhone 5 or iPhone 6); West said that a Size 6 was heading to Rivas.
But a Corrections Department Special Search Team intercepted the shipment to Rivas on Oct. 25, recovering an iPhone 6 with a charger from Rivas’ laundry bag, along with 12 clear plastic bags full of marijuana found in his possession.
Each of the defendants face a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison if convicted.
Peter Thorne, deputy commissioner of public information for the Department of Correction, issued the following statement: “We have zero tolerance for anyone bringing contraband into our jails. Four of these officers are no longer with the Department, and the others have been suspended without pay. If found guilty, they will be terminated.”
This story was updated on Jan. 14 at 6:30 p.m.