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Rikers Island jail search uncovers large cache of contraband drugs, weapons

The search uncovered narcotics, including cocaine, K2 and marijuana in vacuum-sealed bags, dozens of fentanyl-soaked papers, cigarettes, tobacco and ceramic blades

Rikers Island

People walk by a sign at the entrance to Rikers Island on March 31, 2017 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/TNS)

Spencer Platt/TNS

By Graham Rayman
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — A search in a Rikers Island jail uncovered a large cache of narcotics, including cocaine, K2 and marijuana in vacuum sealed bags, dozens of fentanyl-soaked papers, cigarettes, tobacco and ceramic blades, the Daily News has learned.

The major seizure Tuesday at the Otis Bantum Correctional Center, shown in a video obtained by The News, has triggered an internal probe, DOC officials said.

It comes at a time when the Correction Department has installed body scanners for staff in three jails after overcoming longstanding union resistance, according to picture provided by the agency to The News. The four remaining jails will also receive the scanners.

“There is an open investigation regarding contraband seized at that facility and there is nothing more we can share at this time,” DOC spokeswoman Latima Johnson said.

The video obtained by The News from sources shows drugs hidden in more than two dozen fingers from plastic gloves, roughly 10 vacuum packed bags of marijuana, and a black garbage bag containing more vacuum packed baggies of drugs.

Sources familiar with the discovery said it included cocaine, the synthetic marijuana K2 in baggies and glove fingers, roughly 100 Newport cigarettes, loose tobacco, packs of rolling papers, a lighter and another type of synthetic marijuana called K3.

There were also dozens of fentanyl soaked sheets of paper, which are torn into small pieces and resold in the jails, the sources said. The bits of paper are then smoked.

Ceramic knife blades that can be used as weapons and evade metal detectors were also recovered, the sources said.

The find suggests drug contraband and weapons remains a stubborn problem, while the scale of the find could suggest staff involvement.

“This stash of contraband is clearly not meant for personal use, it’s better stocked than a trap house. One has to wonder how it’s possible such a large amount of contraband passed through Rikers security checks,” said Sarena Townsend, a lawyer and former deputy commissioner for trials and investigations for DOC.

“It would be hard to believe these items would not get flagged through the mail. It is far more likely that staff — whether that be uniform or civilian — smuggled the contraband in.”

Two weeks ago, federal prosecutors in Manhattan announced the indictments of three former officers, a former contractor and a former counselor working in the jails for their involvement in a contraband smuggling ring at two other city jails.

In early March, Officer Marc Johnson was suspended after investigators found a stash of contraband including a cell phone, three watches and an airplane bottle of Jack Daniels honey liqueur in a metal box at North Infirmary Command.

In early April, a search found a cell phone in the pillow case of detainee Ricky Torres in the West Facility, a jail specifically built with isolation cells for people with contagious diseases now often used for security risks and high profile cases like current resident Allen Weisselberg, the former Trump organization CFO.

Torres was also the subject of a special court order restricting his phone privileges to his lawyer and his mother. The next day, a second cell phone was found in Torres’ unit.

The latest federal monitor report, released April 18, notes contraband is an issue even in the Rose M. Singer Center unit that houses the most violence-prone inmates. Those units saw 37 stabbings and slashings in the second half of 2023, and another 17 in the first three months of 2024.

“Staff fails to address clear violations like smoking and the use of contraband. The consequences of these failures have resulted in multiple incidents of serious violence,” the report treads.

The monitor report also said agency search procedures “remain poor,” citing a low rate of contraband seizures.

On the heels of the Manhattan case, the city Department of Investigation issued eight recommendations April 9 to address staff smuggling. Two of them — moving staff lockers outside of each jail’s security barriers and wider use of drug sniffing dogs — were proposed in 2014 and 2018 and then largely ignored by DOC.

DOI spokeswoman Diane Struzzi declined to comment.

To effectively combat contraband, correctional staff must adopt the role of contraband detectives. In the following video, Gordon Graham shares strategies for prison staff to prevent contraband from entering facilities.


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