TRENTON –Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that a suspended senior correctional police officer was convicted at trial of smuggling oxycodone, marijuana and tobacco to inmates inside the Southern State Correctional Facility in exchange for money.
Steven B. Saunders, 51, of Camden, N.J., was found guilty late yesterday, July 18, by a Burlington County jury of conspiracy, official misconduct, bribery in official matters, and acceptance or receipt of unlawful benefit by a public servant for official behavior, all second-degree crimes, as well as third-degree possession of oxycodone with intent to distribute and fourth-degree distribution of marijuana. The verdict followed a trial before Superior Court Judge Gerard H. Breland. Saunders has been suspended from his position as a senior correctional police officer since his arrest in November 2017.
Sentencing for Saunders is scheduled for Sept. 6.
Deputy Attorneys General Jonathan Gilmore and Mallory Shanahan tried the case for the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, with assistance from Analyst Nathalie Kurzawa. Saunders was indicted in an investigation by the Department of Corrections Special Investigations Division, the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption Bureau—South Unit, and the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability. Senior Investigator Patrick Sesulka led the investigation for the Department of Corrections.
The state presented testimony and evidence at trial that from March 2016 through November 2017, Saunders conspired with an inmate, Lakovian Shepherd, and the inmate’s girlfriend, Tasha N. Swain, to smuggle drugs and tobacco to inmates in the Southern State Correctional Facility in Maurice River, N.J. In return, Saunders received bribes in the form of payments made by friends or relatives of the inmates outside the prison. Inmates arranged through their associates on the outside for funds to be transferred to Swain using Western Union. Swain – under the direction of Saunders and Shepherd – used the funds to pay Saunders and purchase pills, marijuana and tobacco, which she delivered to Saunders to smuggle into the prison. Saunders charged up to $75 for a pack of loose tobacco and up to $1,000 for an ounce of marijuana. Saunders was arrested on Nov. 20, 2017, after he met Swain in a parking lot in Evesham, N.J., where she gave him 40 grams of marijuana and 17 oxycodone pills to smuggle into prison, along with $1,000 cash. The State Police stopped Saunders’ vehicle and arrested him with the drugs and cash.
“Smuggling drugs and other contraband to inmates undermines security within our state correctional facilities and can seriously compromise the safety of correction officers as well as inmates,” said Attorney General Grewal. “Thankfully, Saunders’ scheme was exposed by vigilant investigators in the Department of Corrections, assisted by the State Police and attorneys in the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability. I commend our trial team for securing this verdict, which ensures that Saunders will face a substantial prison sentence.”
“Saunders betrayed his badge as well as his fellow correctional police officers at Southern State,” said Director Thomas Eicher of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability. “We will continue to work collaboratively with the Department of Corrections and New Jersey State Police to guard the security of our prisons by diligently investigating and prosecuting these cases.”
“The inherent dangers of introducing contraband into a prison setting cannot be overstated,” said Department of Corrections Acting Commissioner Marcus O. Hicks, Esq. “A corrupt officer can undermine the integrity of the entire criminal justice system. While the overwhelming majority of New Jersey Department of Corrections staff is hard-working, honest and unwaveringly committed to public safety, it must be understood that there will be severe consequences for those few who would choose to follow the path of corruption.”
“Saunders abused his authority as a senior correctional police officer for his own personal benefit in an elaborate scheme that potentially put lives at risk,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan of the New Jersey State Police. “The New Jersey State Police Official Corruption Bureau will continue to work relentlessly with our law enforcement partners throughout the State to ensure that offenders who betray the trust of the public and their fellow officers will not cast a shadow over those who are upholding the values of the oath that they pledged.”
Deputy Attorney General John A. Nicodemo presented the case to the state grand jury with Deputy Attorney General Gilmore and participated in the prosecution of Saunders and his co-conspirators, under the supervision of Deputy Attorney General Anthony Picione, Acting Counsel to the Director of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, and Deputy Attorney General Peter Lee.
Swain, 40, of Toms River, N.J., pleaded guilty on May 9, 2018 to third-degree distribution of a controlled dangerous substance. She is awaiting sentencing. Shepherd, 44, who currently is serving a 10-year prison sentence for distribution of narcotics, pleaded guilty on Feb. 22, 2019 to third-degree distribution of a controlled dangerous substance. He also is awaiting sentencing.
Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The second-degree charges carry a mandatory minimum period of parole ineligibility of five years.
Attorney General Grewal and Director Eicher noted that the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability has a toll-free Tipline 1-844-OPIA-TIPS for the public to report corruption, financial crimes and other illegal activities confidentially.
The Attorney General’s Office has an Anti-Corruption Reward Program that offers a reward of up to $25,000 for tips from the public leading to a conviction for a crime involving public corruption. Information is posted on the Attorney General’s website at: www.nj.gov/oag/corruption/reward.html.
Ronald B. Thompson, Esq., Sicklerville, N.J.
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