|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a former state correction officer at Northern State Prison was sentenced to prison today for conspiring to smuggle contraband to an inmate.
Nikita Cardwell, 51, of Easton, Pa., a former senior correction officer, was sentenced to seven years in state prison, including five years of parole ineligibility, by Superior Court Judge Bradley J. Ferencz in Middlesex County. He was ordered to forfeit his state job and his entire pension. Cardwell was found guilty at trial by a Middlesex County jury on April 28 of second-degree charges of bribery, official misconduct and conspiracy to commit bribery and official misconduct. He was acquitted of money laundering and conspiring to smuggle drugs to inmates.
Deputy Attorneys General Cassandra Serentino and Michael Klein tried the case. DAG Klein handled the sentencing for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau. The case stemmed from an investigation by the Department of Corrections Special Investigations Division.
“By taking a bribe and conspiring with an inmate in a smuggling scheme, Cardwell demonstrated that he belongs in a cell like the inmates he formerly guarded,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “We have ensured that he will spend a long time on the other side of the bars.”
“Cell phones pose a serious security breach in prison because they enable inmates to continue to communicate with their criminal associates and potentially compromise the safety of persons outside as well as inside the prison walls,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We are working aggressively with the Department of Corrections to eliminate this threat.”
“Thanks to the Middlesex County jurors in this case for understanding not only the inherent dangers of introducing contraband into a prison setting, but more importantly, realizing a corrupt officer undermines the integrity of the entire criminal justice system,” 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.
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.