Corrections officer indicted for smuggling drugs, tobacco into Southern State

A suspended Southern State corrections officer has been indicted on charges he helped smuggled drugs and tobacco into the Cumberland County facility, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced Friday.
Steven Saunders, 50, of Camden, was suspended from his position as a senior correction officer since November, when he was arrested allegedly meeting with the girlfriend of a prisoner to get drugs to smuggle into him.
Saunders was indicted this week on charges of official misconduct, bribery in official matters and acceptance or receipt of unlawful benefit by a public servant for official behavior. He also was charged with possession of oxycodone with intent to distribute and distribution of marijuana.
Saunders allegedly conspired with inmate Lakovian Shepherd and the man’s girlfriend from March 2016 to November of last year to smuggle contraband into the Maurice River prison, including oxycodone, marijuana and tobacco.
“Saunders abused his authority as a Senior Correction Officer for his own personal benefit in an elaborate scheme that potentially put lives at risk,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan, Acting Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police.
Saunders was arrested meeting Shepherd’s girlfriend, Tasha Swain, in an Evesham parking lot, where she allegedly gave him 40 grams of marijuana and 17 oxycodone pills along with $1,000 in cash.
Saunders’ vehicle was later stopped and he was found with the drugs and more than $2,000 in cash, according to the charges.
The indictment stems from an investigation by the Department of Corrections Special Investigations Division, the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption Bureau, and the Division of Criminal Justice.
“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,” Grewal said.  “Thankfully, Saunders’ scheme was exposed by vigilant investigators in the Department of Corrections, assisted by the State Police and Division of Criminal Justice.”
Shepherd, who is serving a 10-year sentence for drug distribution, is accused of continuing dealing inside prison.
Inmates would allegedly pay for the drugs through friends and family outside who would send money to Swain via Western Union.
Saunders allegedly charged as much as $75 for a pack of loose tobacco and as much as $1,000 for an ounce of marijuana.
Swain, 39, of Toms River, pleaded guilty May 9 to third-degree distribution of a controlled dangerous substance.  She is awaiting sentencing.
Shepherd, 43, faces pending charges including second-degree conspiracy, second-degree bribery, and third-degree distribution of a controlled dangerous substance.
“Saunders is alleged to have betrayed his badge as well as his fellow correction officers at Southern State Correctional Facility,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice.  “We will continue to work closely with the Department of Corrections and State Police to guard the security of our prisons by aggressively investigating and prosecuting these cases.”
A corrupt officer undermines the integrity of the entire criminal justice system, Department of Corrections Acting Commissioner Marcus O. Hicks said.
“The inherent dangers of introducing contraband into a prison setting cannot be overstated,” said.  “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.”

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