NEW YORK (AP) — Seventeen people, including two correction officers, have been indicted in connection with a smuggling ring that took scalpels, drugs and cigarettes into the sprawling Rikers Island jail complex, marking the largest takedown there 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," Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark said in announcing four 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 take scalpels into its Anna M. Kross Center jail in September 2014. McKoy, who told investigators he was paid thousands of dollars to deliver the weapons, was arrested with seven scalpels that he bound together with duct tape to avoid discovery by the jail's metal detectors, prosecutors said. Investigators said they found nine more scalpels when they searched his home. 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 couldn't say where that scalpel came from or whether it was connected to those McKoy is accused of smuggling. Despite the publicity the slashing garnered, McKoy still took 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," Clark said.
McKoy's attorney declined to comment.
After McKoy was arrested, the inmates, seeking to continue a "criminal underground economy" recruited another officer, Mohammad Sufian, to take in synthetic marijuana and tobacco, said Mark Peters, commissioner of the city's Department of Investigation. 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 said they 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.
Peters said 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 its members are innocent until proved guilty.
The other people who were charged in the indictments were accused of helping to transfer money or smuggle drugs into the jail.
Associated Press writer Jake Pearson contributed to this report.
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This story has been corrected to show prosecutors say McKoy was arrested with seven scalpels, not 17.