TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that a suspended senior correction officer has been indicted on charges that he conspired to smuggle marijuana, tobacco and oxycodone to inmates inside the Southern State Correctional Facility in exchange for money.
The Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau obtained a state grand jury indictment on Wednesday, June 26, charging Steven B. Saunders, 50, of Camden, N.J., with conspiracy, official misconduct, bribery in official matters, and acceptance or receipt of unlawful benefit by a public servant for official behavior, all second-degree charges, as well as third-degree possession of oxycodone with intent to distribute and fourth-degree distribution of marijuana. Saunders has been suspended from his position as a senior correction officer since his arrest last November.
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.
It is alleged that from March 2016 through November 2017, Saunders conspired with an inmate, Lakovian Shepherd, and the inmate’s girlfriend, Tasha N. Swain, to smuggle contraband, including drugs and tobacco, to inmates in the Southern State Correctional Facility in Maurice River, N.J. In return, he allegedly received bribes in the form of monetary 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. It is alleged that Swain – under the direction of Saunders and Shepherd – used the funds to pay Saunders and to purchase tobacco, marijuana, and pills, which she delivered to Saunders to be smuggled into the prison. Saunders allegedly 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 allegedly gave him about 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 over $2,000 in cash.
Swain, 39, of Toms River, N.J., pleaded guilty on May 9 to third-degree distribution of a controlled dangerous substance. She is awaiting sentencing. Shepherd, 43, who currently is serving a 10-year prison sentence for distribution of narcotics, faces pending charges including second-degree conspiracy, second-degree bribery, and third-degree distribution of a controlled dangerous substance.
“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 Division of Criminal Justice.”
“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.”
“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 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. “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 Attorneys General John A. Nicodemo and Jonathan Gilmore presented the case to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Senior Investigator Patrick Sesulka led the investigation for the Department of Corrections, and Detective David Engelhard led the investigation for the State Police Official Corruption Bureau.
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.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Burlington County, where Saunders will be ordered to appear in court at a later date for arraignment on the charges.
Attorney General Grewal and Director Allende noted that the Division of Criminal Justice has a toll-free Corruption Tipline 1-866-TIPS-4CJ for the public to report corruption, financial crime and other illegal activities confidentially. The public can also log on to the Division webpage at www.njdcj.org to report suspected wrongdoing 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.
Defense Attorney: Undetermined.
Follow the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office online at Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flicker & YouTube. The social media links provided are for reference only. The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office does not endorse any non-governmental websites, companies or applications.