Gun search at N.J. prison comes up empty


Inmate recants tip about weapon in Newark

By RICK HEPP
Newark Star-Ledger

NEWARK, N.J. — Officers searched a maximum-security unit at Northern State Prison - which holds New Jersey's most dangerous gang members - after being told a prisoner had smuggled a gun into the Newark facility and stashed it in his cell, authorities confirmed yesterday.

The search on Tuesday did not turn up a weapon. The inmate who tipped off authorities later recanted, but the president of the sergeants union said it highlights a growing problem of contraband getting into the state's 14 prisons.

"They find cell phones, weapons or drugs daily," said Steve Brzdek, president of the New Jersey Law Enforcement Supervisors Association. "Realistically, there are only two ways for contraband to get into prisons: It's either through visits or it's through the staff. No matter how it gets into the facility, once it gets in it jeopardizes the entire facility. It's time for internal affairs to weed out the bad apples."

The Department of Corrections declined to respond to the comments, but in the past prison officials have pointed to the increased use of metal detectors on officers and inmates alike to keep knives, guns, cellular phones and other contraband from entering a facility.

A number of recent incidents, including two that came to light yesterday, show it is an ongoing battle.

Late last month, authorities charged Corrections Officer James Gallichio with official misconduct and sexual assault for carrying on a five-month sexual relationship with a female prisoner with the aid of a smuggled-in cellular phone.

Gallichio used the cell phone to speak with the prisoner, who called him on it 894 times from a recorded telephone line in her unit at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, according to a Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office affidavit of probable cause for arrest. At least some of those calls came while Gallichio was on duty and should not have had a cell phone, authorities alleged.

Corrections investigators also uncovered a conspiracy last summer by inmates to smuggle drugs and cellular telephones into New Jersey State Prison with the help of corrupt prison staff, according to an Appellate Division decision issued yesterday in a case that was never publicly disclosed. The inmates asked family members, friends, and others to get the contraband and then give it to officers to be smuggled inside the state's maximum-security prison in Trenton.

In another incident, Officer Michael Bruinton was charged in December with helping the Lucchese family and Bloods street gang smuggle drugs, cell phones and iPods into East Jersey State Prison in Woodbridge.

And, in perhaps the most high-profile breach, officers discovered a loaded .32-caliber handgun at New Jersey State Prison in August 2006, prompting a three-week search of the state's maximum-security prison in Trenton.

Scott Derby, president of the New Jersey Law Enforcement Commanding Officers Association, which represents the captains, said the problem lies with the department's Special Investigations Division, which handles both internal affairs probes and inmate investigations.

"The problem is systemic because of their dual functions," said Derby, who has long recommended splitting the unit. "You can't be an investigator working with officers one day and then you're investigating their conduct the next. That's a very difficult place to be in and it creates a very strange relationship."

Copyright 2008 Newark Morning Ledger Co.
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