Trending Topics

Former CO pleads guilty in bribery scheme to smuggle bejeweled ‘grill’ for prisoner’s teeth

The CO smuggled dental molds in and out of the prison in September 2020 so that a Houston jeweler could create the grill

 Donovan state prison

A prisoner at Donovan state prison in Otay Mesa on September 2, 2016.

Howard Lipin/TNS

Alex Riggins
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — A former corrections officer at an Otay Mesa prison pleaded guilty Tuesday in San Diego federal court to accepting bribes from a prisoner and his brothers as part of a scheme to smuggle into the prison a gold and diamond “grill” for the man’s teeth.

Benito Jamar Hugie, 49, pleaded guilty to a charge involving a bribery conspiracy, as did the prisoner, Shawn Brown, and two Fresno men prosecutors identified as Brown’s brothers.

Brown, along with several co-defendants, also pleaded guilty Tuesday to running a fraud scheme partially from behind bars involving COVID-19 unemployment benefits. Prosecutors previously alleged the scam netted them nearly $700,000 in cash payouts — a fraction of the more than $20 billion California estimates it lost to pandemic unemployment fraud.

Hugie had worked for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation since at least 2011, according to public records from Transparent California. His attorney confirmed that he lost his job after being indicted.

“Mr. Hugie recognizes he became unprofessionally close with some of the prison inmates, from which he made a series of terrible decisions, for which he accepts full responsibility,” defense attorney Douglas Brown , who is not related to the defendants, said Tuesday.

The attorney for Shawn Brown said he could not comment without first consulting his client.

Hugie accepted at least $5,000 from Brown and his brothers, according to the indictment. In their plea agreements, the men admitted that the entirety of the scheme — to acquire the bejeweled grill, to bribe Hugie and to smuggle the grill into the prison — exceeded $30,000.

According to the plea agreement, Hugie smuggled dental molds in and out of the prison in September 2020 so that a Houston jeweler could create the grill. The next month, Hugie smuggled the finished product into the facility for Brown.

While the FBI was investigating the bribery scheme, agents learned Brown was defrauding state taxpayers with fake COVID-related unemployment claims, according to a second indictment. Five Fresno residents, including one of Brown’s brothers, and another man incarcerated in the Otay Mesa prison were also named in that indictment.

Brown and five of his co-defendants in that case pleaded guilty Tuesday to a wire fraud conspiracy charge. Prosecutors agreed to drop the charge in that case against his brother Daejohne Hatcher in exchange for Hatcher’s guilty plea in the bribery case.

Brown admitted in the wire fraud guilty plea that the fake unemployment scheme resulted in a loss of more than $550,000 to the state’s Employment Development Department .

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune .

©2023 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.