TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a former state correction officer at Northern State Prison was convicted at trial today of conspiring to smuggle contraband to an inmate.
Nikita Cardwell, 51, of Easton, Pa., a former senior correction officer, was found guilty at trial by a Middlesex County jury of second-degree charges of bribery, official misconduct and conspiracy to commit bribery and official misconduct. He was found guilty following a week-long trial before Superior Court Judge Bradley J. Ferencz. Cardwell was acquitted of charges of money laundering and conspiring to smuggle drugs to inmates.
Cardwell faces five to 10 years in state prison on the charges of which he was convicted, including a mandatory period of parole ineligibility of five years. Judge Ferencz scheduled sentencing for July 23.
Deputy Attorneys General Cassandra Serentino and Michael Klein tried the case for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau. The indictment stemmed from an investigation by the Department of Corrections Special Investigations Division.
“Cell phones are strictly prohibited in state prisons because inmates often use them to orchestrate new crimes involving associates outside the walls,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “By taking a bribe to assist an inmate in his stated purpose of obtaining and using a cell phone, Cardwell exhibited a complete disregard for the safety of his fellow officers and the public. This verdict ensures that he will serve a lengthy term behind bars.”
“When crooked correction officers like Cardwell smuggle contraband to inmates, they multiply the challenges and threats faced by the many fine officers who work hard every day to maintain safety and security in our state prisons,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We’ll continue to work with the Department of Corrections to eliminate this type of corruption.”
“While the overwhelming majority of New Jersey Department of Corrections staff is hard-working and honest, it must be understood that there will be severe consequences for those few who would choose to follow the path of corruption. Thanks to all members of the criminal justice system who collaborated on this investigation,” said Commissioner Gary M. Lanigan of the Department of Corrections.
The investigation of Cardwell stemmed from an earlier investigation into the smuggling activities of former Senior Correction Officer Luis Roman, who brought cell phones and narcotics into Northern State Prison for a network of inmates who distributed the contraband. Roman pleaded guilty and was sentenced in 2012 to five years in prison without possibility of parole.
After investigators obtained information that Cardwell was smuggling contraband to inmates, they set up a sting operation in 2011, during which Cardwell smuggled $400 and a prepaid calling card to an inmate in Northern State Prison who was cooperating with investigators. The inmate said he needed the cash and calling card because he was going to buy a cell phone from another inmate. Cell phones are prohibited in state prisons. Cardwell obtained the prepaid calling card and $700 in cash from a relative of the inmate outside the prison, keeping $300 for himself as his fee. Cardwell was arrested on July 28, 2011, after smuggling the cash and calling card to the inmate and taking the bribe.
Cardwell was suspended without pay from his job with the Department of Corrections after his arrest.
Senior Investigator Samuel Wise led the investigation for the Department of Corrections Special Investigations Division, assisted by Principle Investigators Edward Soltys and Joseph Moore, and Senior Investigators Stephen Manera, Anthony Aversano, Michael Kubick, Randy Valentin and Jeffrey Polling.
Acting Attorney General Hoffman and Director Honig noted that the Division of Criminal Justice has established a toll-free tipline 1-866-TIPS-4CJ for the public to confidentially report public corruption, financial crime and other illegal activities. The public also can log on to the Division’s web page at www.njdcj.org to report suspected wrongdoing confidentially.