20 people, including correctional officers, indicted in Maryland prison smuggling scheme

Twenty people, including correctional officers, employees and inmates, face charges in a scheme that involved bribes to smuggle contraband, such as drugs and cellphones, into the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup, prosecutors said.

A federal grand jury indicted the defendants on federal racketeering and related charges on March 28. The indictment was made public this week upon the arrest of the defendants.

“The indictment alleges that prison officials took bribes to smuggle contraband for inmates and assaulted inmates,” said Robert K. Hur, U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland, in a news release Wednesday.

The 11-count indictment alleges that from 2014 until the present, inmates and outside facilitators paid correctional officers, employees and contractors for smuggled contraband using cash, money orders and even electronic forms of payment.

Inmates were able to use contraband cellphones to pay those smuggling in the contraband directly. Inmates also received payments from other inmates for contraband through PayPal and Green Dot card, often with the assistance of facilitators, prosecutors said.

Although correctional officers and other employees were required to pass through security screenings at the facility’s entrance, those smuggling in the items were able to hide them, which also involved having known “stash” locations, such as the library, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors said the drugs that the defendants conspired to smuggle and sell in the prison include heroin, cocaine and marijuana, among many others.

Profits made by the inmates by selling contraband in the prison far exceeded profits that could be made by selling similar items on the street, prosecutors said.

“Corrupt correctional officers and staff endanger the lives of their co-workers and of the inmates entrusted to their care and supervision, and undermine everyone’s faith in the administration of justice,” Hur said.

The indictment also alleged that defendant correctional officers had sexual relationships with inmates and exchanged sex for contraband, prosecutors said.

Between 2005 and 2017, the indictment alleged correctional officer Owen Nesmith sexually assaulted three inmates. In two cases, the indictment alleged that Nesmith threatened the inmates with death, serious bodily injury and deals such as parole.

When questioned by investigators, prosecutors said Nesmith falsely stated that he had never brought drugs into the prison, sold drugs, or had any inappropriate relationships or sexual contact with any inmates while employed at the facility.

“Let me make it very clear, we have absolutely no tolerance whatsoever for corruption of any kind in our state prison system, or anywhere else in state government,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. “Those who abuse the public trust will be brought to justice and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

If convicted, 19 defendants face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for racketeering; nine defendants face up to 20 years in prison for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute drugs; and three defendants face up to 20 years in prison for possession with intent to distribute controlled substances.

Additionally, Nesmith faces a maximum of life in prison for deprivation of rights under color of law for threatening death or serious bodily injury, and one year in prison for the other two counts; and a maximum of five years in prison for making false statements.

The defendants are listed below:

Correctional officers/employees
Owen Nesmith, correctional officer lieutenant, 50, of Baltimore;
Patricia McDaniel, correctional dietary officer, age 26, of Baltimore;
Janel Griffin, correctional officer, 40, of Baltimore;
Robert Doggett, case manager employee, 53, of Baltimore;
Ricky McNeely, contract exterminator, 39 of Baltimore; and
Joseph Nwancha, contract nurse, 39, of Baltimore.

Inmates
Corey Alston, 29;
Jerrard Bazemore, 34;
Irving Hernandez, 25;
Todd Holloway, 34;
Schvel Mack, 29;
Larnell Megginson, 38; and
Tavon Price, 35.

Facilitators
Aldon Alston, 55, of Baltimore;
Ashley Alston, 28, of Baltimore;
Tyirisha Johnson, 23, of Baltimore;
Jamia Lawson, 27, of Baltimore;
Jerrell McNeill, 35, of Baltimore;
India Parker, 33, of Parkville, Maryland; and
Lekeah Pendleton, 40, of Catonsville, Maryland.

The facility in Jessup is a medium-security prison with around 1,100 male inmates, 262 custody staff or correctional officers, and 52 non-custody staff, according to the indictment.

WTOP’s Megan Cloherty contributed to this report.

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