The state Tuesday obtained grand jury indictments charging 35 state prison inmates with the illegal possession of cell phones, Attorney General Anne Milgram announced.
The state grand jury indictments are a result of a collaborative effort involving the Division of Criminal Justice and the Department of Corrections. Twenty-five of the indicted inmates are members or associates of criminal street gangs, including various sets of the Bloods, as well as the Crips, Latin Kings, and Netas. The initiative is, in part, especially aimed at gang members who use cell phones to allegedly continue participation in criminal activities.
According to Criminal Justice Director Deborah L. Gramiccioni, each of the defendants was charged with unlawful possession of a cell phone in a correctional facility, a third-degree crime that carries a maximum sentence of five years in state prison and a $15,000 fine. All prison time imposed would have to be served consecutively to the inmate's current sentence.
The indictments were a result of searches by corrections officers and investigations by the Department of Corrections Special Investigations Division. Milgram said while the indictments target the users, the Division of Criminal Justice and DOC are continuing investigations that focus on the entire supply chain through which cell phones are introduced into the prisons.
"When we take violent gang offenders off the street, they cannot be allowed to continue to direct criminal activities using contraband cell phones," Milgram said. "This wave of cases should signal to inmates that we are disconnecting their illicit calls, and we will seek significant additional prison time when we catch them with cell phones."
"Safety and security both inside and outside the prison walls are paramount to our mission," said Corrections Commissioner George W. Hayman. "Illegal cell phones potentially provide the offender population with an opportunity to compromise public safety. This cannot and will not be allowed to happen, and we will continue to utilize aggressive, proactive measures in our efforts to protect law-abiding citizens throughout New Jersey and beyond."
The 35 defendants are charged in 31 separate indictments which were handed up to state Superior Court Judge Linda R. Feinberg in Trenton. Of the 35 defendants, 24 are inmates at Northern State Prison in Newark, 9 are inmates at East Jersey State Prison in Woodbridge, and 2 are inmates at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton.
The defendants are serving prison sentences ranging from 5 years to life with 30 years of parole ineligibility. They were imprisoned for crimes that include murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault, armed robbery and drug and weapons offenses. The cell phones were found between October and June.
Between August and July, the DOC confiscated a total of 391 cell phones. Additional investigations are pending and other cases have been referred for prosecution to the prosecutors in the counties where the prisons are located.
"We will continue to work closely with the Department of Corrections on these cases," Gramiccioni said. "We must ensure that the offenders we send to prison are isolated from criminal associates on the outside, particularly if they belong to street gangs. That means eliminating their access to cell phones."
In addition to leading efforts to detect and prosecute inmates with cell phones and those who smuggle them into prisons, Milgram and Hayman are advocating passage of proposed federal legislation that would allow states, with permission from the FCC, to install devices that would jam cell phone communications within prisons.
The official prison phones which inmates are permitted to use are monitored, and inmates can only call people on an authorized list, which excludes known gang associates.
Here are the prisoners who have been indicted:
At Northern State Prison - Darnell Smith, 34, Keyano Sapp, 29, Dawud Amin, 55, Darnell Haywood, 43, Kevin Robinson, 25, Angel Hernandez, 49, Wilson Valdez, 29, Brian Williams, 31, Raheem Pratt, 28, Calvin Alexander, 44, Brad Smith, 35, Michael Fields, 35, Derrell Riddick, 30, Cagliano Ulysses, 26, Jose Camacho, 27, Eric Fyshe, 24, Carmelo Herrara, 45, Dennis Clifford, 38, Andrew Wyble, 24, Shondale Grady, 26, Hector Garcia, 41, Miguel Rodriguez, 31,
Taron McDougald, 36, and Troy Gardner, 28.
At East Jersey State Prison - Tawann McGuire, 30, Tyrone Dennis, 29, Manuel Hernandez, 34, Al-Malik Amir, 38, Levay Moore, 29, Duan Howard, 26, Joshua Gaudette, 31, Quawee Mitchell, 22, and Joseph Lopez, 38. Dennis is also charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute while in prison.
At South Woods State Prison - Andre Kirkland, 28, and Roy Rawl, 29.
The use of cell phones by gang leaders to conduct criminal business from prison has been exposed in major state investigations. The Division of Criminal Justice has indictments pending against David "Duke" Allen, who allegedly led the Nine Trey Gangsters set of the Bloods from New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, and Michael Anderson, who allegedly helped lead the Nine Trey Headbustas in Camden from the same facility.
"We have been effective in disrupting gang operations by targeting their command structures with intelligence-led investigations," Milgram said. "We won't let those efforts be undermined by gang leaders who use cell phones to issue commands to the street from behind prison walls."
The Attorney General office has led operations involving all levels of law enforcement to target the most dangerous street gangs under the Governor's Strategy for Safe Streets and Neighborhoods. The first two-phases of a statewide initiative against gangs have led to the arrest since June 2008 of more than 4,943 individuals, including 1,195 suspected gang members. One result has been that the gang population in the state's 13 prisons has been growing rapidly.
In May 2009, the State Commission of Investigation issued a report detailing how gang members engage in criminal activities while imprisoned, frequently utilizing prohibited cell phones.
The Department of Corrections is one of the first in the nation to utilize dogs to detect cell phones. The department continues to train its own staff and dogs for cell phone detection and routinely conducts searches. Of the 391 cell phones seized between August 2008 and July, 131 were detected by dogs. The canines also detected 126 cell phones chargers and 9 cell phone batteries.
The visitor identification process has been strengthened and a policy of pat-searching all visitors has been implemented. Also, the number of authorized items permitted in the visit area has been limited. The DOC has removed vending machines in visitor halls in all correctional facilities because visitors were hiding cell phones in snack packages and passing them to inmates. In addition, the department now requires that all inmates entering or exiting a facility for work details or other reasons must be strip-searched and then searched using a Bodily Orifice Security Scanner chair specifically to eliminate the possibility of electronic devices and other contraband from being hidden in body cavities.
Efforts have also been made to eliminate smuggling of contraband by prison staff, including corrections officers and civilian staff. Custody staff uniforms have been modified to remove all metal accessories, enabling entry-point walk-through metal detectors to be placed on the highest settings and calibrated to help eliminate the introduction of cell phones into the prisons
Deputy Attorney General Julia Glass coordinated the cases for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, with the assistance of every attorney in the bureau. DOC Senior Investigators Jeffrey Poling and Randy Valentin, and Principal Investigators Scott Russo, Trinidad Pena, Vincent Wojciechowicz and Leonard Randolph also worked on the cases.
— TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM