New York – Seventeen people, including two correction officers, have been indicted in connection with a jail smuggling ring that brought scalpels, drugs and cigarettes into Rikers Island, marking the largest takedown at the sprawling New York City jail complex in the last decade, authorities said Thursday.
“This alleged scheme contributed to the climate of danger and fear that feeds the notorious reputation of Rikers Island for brutality,” said Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark, in announcing four separate indictments, totaling 84 criminal counts.
The city’s correction department commissioner, Joseph Ponte, said the agency was “taking aggressive steps to stem the flow of contraband into our facilities.”
Authorities said inmates being held 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. McKoy, who told investigators he was paid thousands of dollars to bring in the weapons, was arrested with 17 scalpels that he bound together with duct tape to avoid discovery by the jail’s metal detectors. Prosecutors allege he also was able to smuggle contraband, including synthetic marijuana and an opioid, suboxone, into the jail from September to November 2015.
In November, a fellow correction officer, Raymond Calderon, was slashed by an inmate wielding a scalpel, but authorities could not say Thursday where that scalpel came from or whether it was connected to those that McKoy allegedly smuggled into the jail.
Despite the publicity the slashing garnered, McKoy still brought scalpels into the jail to sell to inmates, prosecutors said.
McKoy was arrested weeks after that attack. He “degraded his correction officer’s uniform and badge and dishonored all civil servants by allegedly taking at least $10,000 in bribes from inmates to bring in contraband,” said Clark.
McKoy’s attorney didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
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, Peters 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.
Mark Peters, commissioner of the city’s Department of Investigation, 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 who were charged in the indictments were accused of helping to transfer money or smuggle drugs into the jail, authorities said.