Former Pa. county CO gets 2 years in federal prison for cellphone smuggling

An attorney for the former officer said his client's loss of control over the inmate led to the repeated misconduct


By Torsten Ove
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
        
INDIANA, Pa. — A former jail officer in Indiana County is headed to the lockup himself for smuggling cellphones to an inmate in exchange for cash.

U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon on Wednesday gave Alex Lewis, 26, two years in federal prison.

Lewis, an ex-officer at the Indiana County Jail who has since moved to Georgia, had pleaded guilty to conspiracy and bribery in accepting payoffs from a federal detainee, Rashon Richardson, in the summer of 2019.

The two were indicted together.

Lewis met with a Richardson confederate outside the jail who paid him cash bribes and, on one occasion, a $400 payment to Lewis' Cash App account.

In exchange, Lewis brought in cellphones for Richardson and other federal prisoners held at the jail.

Lewis' lawyer, Marvin Miller, said his client knew that he was breaking the law but thought it would be a "one-time thing."

After the one time, however, he kept doing it and tried to rationalize his actions.

"He soon realized that the authority he once had over the inmates under his charge was now reversed; an inmate had control over him," Mr. Miller said.

But he said Lewis has learned his lesson and wants to start over in Georgia, where he has been working at a food store as a machine operator, and asked the judge for probation.

Eric Olshan, the prosecutor, said Lewis doesn't deserve that leniency. He said Lewis abused a position of trust, put everyone at risk in the jail by sneaking in contraband and now needs to pay the price with a prison term within the federal guidelines.

Mr. Olshan said Lewis showed "profound disrespect" for the law.

"The defendant knew that what he was doing was wrong — the entire time — and he cannot claim that his behavior was somehow a mere aberration or simple error in judgment," he said.

Mr. Olshan also rejected Lewis' argument that he had cooperated with authorities.

He said Lewis never came forward on his own and didn't do anything until the jail staff confronted him with video evidence of him handing a phone to an inmate. Further, that surveillance review happened only after the staff found five phones at various locations inside the jail.

"The fact that the defendant admitted his conduct after he was essentially caught is hardly justification for a variance," Mr. Olshan said.

The judge agreed and sentenced Lewis within the guideline range, saying "if the people we place in trusted positions cannot be trusted, the entire system breaks down."

The case against Richardson is pending.
     
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