Smuggled Contraband Narcotics into Prison in Exchange for Bribe Payments; Inmate Also Pleaded Guilty to the Racketeering Conspiracy
May 5, 2021 - Greenbelt, Maryland – U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang today sentenced Chaz Chriscoe, age 40, of Owings Mills, Maryland, yesterday to 39 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for a racketeering conspiracy at the Jessup Correctional Institution (JCI). The conspiracy included former correctional officers, inmates, and outside “facilitators,” like Chriscoe, who paid bribes to correctional officers to smuggle contraband, including narcotics, alcohol, tobacco, and cell phones into the prison.
On May 3, 2021, JCI inmate Darnell Smith, a/k/a “Hook,” age 40, pleaded guilty to his role in the racketeering conspiracy.
The sentence and guilty plea were announced by Acting United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan F. Lenzner; Acting Special Agent in Charge Rachel Byrd, of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office; and Secretary Robert Green, of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
“Prison corruption does not just endanger the lives of correctional officers and of the inmates entrusted to their care and supervision, but of the entire community, as it allows inmates to direct criminal activity from their prison cells” said Acting United States Attorney Jonathan F. Lenzner. “The United States Attorney’s Office will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to root out prison corruption and prosecute correctional officers and others who facilitate and engage in criminal behavior.”
“From corrupt officials to outside facilitators, we cannot and will not accept the perpetuation of a cycle of illegal activity inside prison walls,” said Rachel Byrd, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Baltimore Field Office. “Federal, state, and local officials will continue to work together to root out those who undermine the administration of justice at our prisons.”
“Anyone—inmate, family member, community member, or employee—who tries to bring contraband into a correctional facility puts hundreds of people at risk, and must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Robert Green, Secretary of Maryland's Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
JCI was a maximum-security prison that housed approximately 1,800 male inmates, with approximately 423 Correctional Officers (COs).
According to their plea agreements, from at least 2017 until their arrests in 2020, Chriscoe, who also goes by the name “Cheese,” and Smith conspired with JCI COs, inmates, and outside facilitators to smuggle contraband into JCI, including narcotics, alcohol, tobacco, and cell phones, in order to enrich themselves and protect and expand their criminal operation. According to their plea agreements and other court documents, COs accepted or agreed to accept payments from facilitators and/or inmates or engaged in sexual relations with inmates as consideration for smuggling contraband into JCI. Inmates acted as both wholesalers and retailers of contraband and in the process made profits that far exceeded the profits that could be made by selling similar drugs on the street. For example, conspirator inmates could purchase Suboxone strips for approximately $3 each and sell them inside JCI for approximately $50 each, or for a profit of more than 1,000 percent.
As detailed in their plea agreements, Chriscoe maintained relationships with several inmates and COs at JCI, including CO Chanel Pierce and inmate Darnell Smith. Chriscoe acted as the primary conduit through which coconspirators would get contraband, including controlled dangerous drugs, such as Suboxone, to CO Pierce and others to smuggle into JCI and then distribute the contraband to inmates. On a nearly daily basis, Chriscoe met with other outside facilitators to gather and package contraband before meeting with a CO to provide the contraband and bribe payment.
For example, between December 30, 2018 and January 12, 2019, law enforcement intercepted communications indicating that Chriscoe was meeting with a JCI CO at the CO’s home to deliver drugs and bribe money. When the CO was arrested a few days later, Chriscoe became the primary coordinator for the smuggling conspiracy because he and Darnell Smith had a connection with another JCI CO, specifically Chanel Pierce, with whom Smith was engaged in a romantic relationship. Over the next several months, investigators intercepted daily communications between Chriscoe, Smith, Pierce and other JCI inmates and their outside facilitators to coordinate contraband drop-offs and payments. The calls showed that outside facilitators would drop contraband off with Chriscoe, who then met with and provided the contraband to CO Pierce for smuggling into JCI. Sataya Hall was Smith’s financial facilitator and sent payments to both Chriscoe and Pierce on Smith’s behalf. In addition, Hall accepted payments on Smith’s behalf from facilitators for other JCI inmates in payment for contraband Smith had sold inside of JCI.
Smith admitted that during the time of the conspiracy, he possessed a contraband cell phone inside JCI that he used to further the smuggling operation, routinely using the contraband phone to communicate with CO Pierce, Hall, and Chriscoe. In addition, there were numerous conversations in which Smith discussed the types and quantities of drugs that were to be smuggled into JCI, as well as the money that other inmates and outside facilitators would pay for them. Smith also used the phone to conduct his romantic relationship with CO Pierce, coordinate her bribe payments and facilitate her meetings with Chriscoe.
As detailed in their plea agreements, early on the morning of May 25, 2019, Chriscoe met Pierce at her home and provided her with several balloons filled with controlled substances to smuggle into JCI. Pierce then went to work and was stopped by law enforcement as she entered the facility and searched. Law enforcement recovered a concealed purple balloon containing Suboxone from Pierce’s person. A subsequent search of Pierce’s home revealed several more balloons filled with contraband that she intended to smuggle into JCI.
Smith faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the racketeering conspiracy. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang has scheduled sentencing for August 4, 2021, at 2:00 p.m.
A total of nine defendants, including Chriscoe, Smith, Pierce, and Hall, have pleaded guilty to their roles in the racketeering conspiracy. Six defendants are still facing charges. Former Correctional Dietary Officer Chanel Pierce, age 28, of Pikesville, Maryland, pleaded guilty to the racketeering conspiracy and is awaiting sentencing. Co-defendant inmates Page Boyd, age 37, and Marshall Hill, a/k/a “Boosie,” age 29, pleaded guilty to their roles in the racketeering conspiracy and were each sentenced to four years in federal prison. Co-defendant facilitators Sataya Hall, age 38, of Baltimore, and Trinesse Butts, age 37, of Parkville, Maryland also pleaded guilty to the racketeering conspiracy and were sentenced to six months in federal prison and a year and a day in federal prison, respectively.
This case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.
The U.S. Attorney expressed appreciation to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, whose staff initiated the JCI investigation and have been full partners in this investigation.
Acting United States Attorney Jonathan F. Lenzner commended the FBI and the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services for their work in the investigation. Mr. Lenzner thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Lauren E. Perry and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig G. Fansler, who are prosecuting this case.Source: DOJ