Ex-assistant Neb. warden sentenced to jail for giving inmate a phone

At the time of her arrest Sarah Torsiello had worked 18 years for the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services

By Lori Pilger
Lincoln Journal Star

LINCOLN, Neb.  — A former assistant warden at a state prison in Lincoln has been sentenced to a year in the county jail for unlawful acts involving a relationship with an inmate.

Sarah Torsiello engaged in activity she "absolutely knew was wrong," Lancaster County District Judge Jodi Nelson said Wednesday.

On the eve of the trial, prosecutors dropped two charges alleging the sexual abuse of an inmate.
On the eve of the trial, prosecutors dropped two charges alleging the sexual abuse of an inmate. (Lancaster County Jail)

She said it is the type of case that causes everyone involved great angst.

"These are institutions where Ms. Torsiello perhaps more than anyone understands and realizes the importance of not violating the rules and not violating the law. Because it is integral to the safety and security of that institution," Nelson said.

Torsiello, 46, was assistant warden at the Reception and Treatment Center, formerly the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center and the Lincoln Correctional Center, when she provided a cellphone to an inmate serving a life sentence on murder charges out of Omaha.

At the time of her arrest, she had worked for Nebraska prisons for more than 18 years and was said to be in line for a position as warden.

After her arrest, she resigned.

On the eve of the trial, prosecutors dropped two charges alleging the sexual abuse of an inmate. Inmates can't by law consent to sexual contact.

At sentencing Wednesday, defense attorney Bob Creager said Torsiello since has sought counseling, has gotten a good job and is moving forward.

He said probation would help her on the path from a dark place in her life and foster rehabilitation.

"Ms. Torsiello made a mistake, a grave mistake," Creager said. "But on the other hand, she is in that lane of first-time offenders, where probation is the presumptive sentence."

Then, Torsiello offered a brief apology for her actions.

On the other side, Deputy Lancaster County Attorney Matt Mellor said the state objected to probation or a deferred sentence, for which Creager had argued.

He said Torsiello knew the intimate details of the facility, where the cameras were and the rules about inappropriate contact with inmates and had compromised herself.

"There are risks to inmates, there are risks to staff members, there are risks to the entire facility under crimes of this nature. She was in a high position of trust in the Department of Corrections, so the state is asking for a straight sentence," Mellor said.

In the end, Nelson said, although Torsiello had no prior criminal record and was a low risk to reoffend, she now will have to deal not only with the ruination of a valued and storied career within the department, but also with consequences for breaking the law.

And the judge took umbrage with the defense characterization that what Torsiello did was a mistake.

"A mistake is something that happens by accident. This is no accident," Nelson said.

She said Torsiello put herself in the position, then propounded it by continuing an intimate relationship and providing the inmate with a phone and getting herself a burner phone so they could communicate secretly.

"It's not a single lapse in judgment. It's a concerted, intentional plan," she said.

With credit for one day, Torsiello will have to serve 190 days in jail before her release.


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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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