Rogue guard convicted of smuggling pot to sell to NYC inmates

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 12, 2014 4:00 PM

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A rogue guard at New York City's Rikers Island jail was convicted on Friday of taking bribes and smuggling marijuana to sell to inmates at two maximum security lockups, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.

A jury in U.S. District Court in Manhattan convicted Austin Romain, 32, of fraud, accepting bribes and conspiring to distribute marijuana to prisoners at two different facilities at the sprawling jail, said Betsy Feuerstein, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney.

Romain, who had worked as a correction officer since August 2007, faces up to 35 years in prison when he is sentenced at a later date, she said.

Romain and another Rikers guard, Khalif Phillips, were accused of drug smuggling after a two-year investigation into an illicit contraband distribution ring at the jail, a probe run by the city's Department of Investigation and the New York Drug Enforcement Task Force.

Phillips is serving 36 months in prison after being convicted of narcotics-related offenses, Feuerstein said.

Bharara in August published the findings of a lengthy civil rights investigation into the abuse of teenage inmates at Rikers, and has since suggested New York's slow response in making reforms may prompt him to file a civil rights lawsuit against the city to force changes.

"Holding corrupt officers like Romain accountable for their misconduct is just part of the solution; it is not a substitute for the sweeping, institutional reforms necessary at Rikers Island," Bharara said in a statement on Friday.

"We will continue to press forward on both fronts, holding individual bad actors accountable and demanding meaningful, institutional reforms," he said.

Romain's attorney, Brad Henry of Manhattan, declined to comment on the case.

The Correction Officers' Benevolent Association Inc did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Jonathan Oatis)