Alleged Manhattan Prison Smuggling Plot Is Straight Out of 'The Wire' - Rolling Stone
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Inside the Alleged Manhattan Prison Smuggling Plot Straight Out of ‘The Wire’

Authorities shut down the Metropolitan Correctional Center because of its abhorrent conditions. A new indictment suggests it was rife with corruption, too

FILE - This Aug. 10, 2019, shows razor wire fencing at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York. Once hailed as a prototype for a new kind of federal jail and the most secure in the country, the Metropolitan Correctional Center has become a blighted wreck, with infrastructure so crumbling it’s impossible to safely house inmates there. And so the Justice Department said last month it would close the jail by the end of October to undertake much-needed repairs. But it may never reopen. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

This Aug. 10, 2019, shows razor wire fencing at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York.

Bebeto Matthews/AP

The filthy, cramped, and corrupt federal lockup in Manhattan where Jeffrey Epstein hanged himself was deemed such a mess that the Department of Justice announced its closure in August — and cleared it of prisoners in late October. On Nov. 4, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York unsealed an indictment revealing a final, capstone scandal at the cursed Metropolitan Correctional Center. A close reading of those documents, as well as a review of the previous convictions of those involved, reveals a plot connecting corrections staff to some of the most violent gangs in New York City, including the “Blood Hound Brims” and an offshoot of the Crips.

Three jail officers were charged for having participated in a scheme to smuggle contraband into the high-rise lockup for the benefit of eight inmates — with eleven aliases among them — who represent at least six different gangs. One of the prisoners, a member of the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods named Anthony “Harv” Ellison, is serving a 24-year sentence for offenses including the kidnapping and robbery of the rapper Tekashi69.

According to the 22-page indictment, the criminal scheme involved jail employees accepting bribes to smuggle a wide array of drugs, booze, cigarettes, and cell phones into the notorious 12-story detention center. Opened in 1975 and operated by the federal Bureau of Prisons, MCC has been primarily used to house inmates awaiting trial or sentencing. In recent years, it had been the scene of severe overcrowding, squalor and scandal

It also held world-notorious inmates, including Epstein, who was able to end his life due to the inattention of MCC guards that were dozing and scrolling the Internet rather than attending to the sex-criminal financier; and the Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, who railed against the jail’s unsanitary conditions and likened his detention at MCC to “physical, emotional and mental torture.”

According to the indictment, the smuggling scheme began around October 2019 and continued through January of this year. Three employees at the jail allegedly helped smuggle in oxycodone, Xanax, K2 — a smokable synthetic cannabinoid, alcohol, cigarettes and cell phones and accessories. The contraband was allegedly handed off to eight inmates at the jail, with aliases that read like they’re straight out of a script of The Wire — including “Kingo,” “Rell,” “Brando,” “Don P,” “Chino,” and “Junior.” 

The gang affiliations of these men are not listed on the indictment, but the feds have previously linked them to some of the most feared crews in New York City. They include: 

  • The “Blood Hound Brims,” which the feds describe as “one of the most violent and fastest-growing factions of the Bloods street and prison gang.”
  • The “Davidson Avenue DTO” (or Drug Trafficking Organization) affiliated, the feds say, with “the nationwide Crips street gang.” 
  • The “Boss Crew,” which the feds describe as “a Brooklyn drug trafficking organization.”
  • The “Stevenson Commons Crew,” a Bronx-based “racketeering enterprise,” per the feds.
  • And the “Hot Boys,” which the feds describe as “a robbery crew” based in Upper Manhattan.

The most-high-profile inmate in the indictment is Harv Ellison, a member of the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods — the gang that rapper Tekashi69 ran with to cultivate street cred, often featuring gang members in his videos. Ellison had been a trusted associate and bodyguard of the rapper, but reportedly came to view Tekashi69, whose real name is Daniel Hernandez, as a wannabe rather than a committed gangster. 

Ellison ultimately kidnapped the rapper in 2018 and threatened to kill him before agreeing to take the rapper’s jewelry instead. As detailed by the New York Daily News, the massive haul included: “a red presidential Rolex, a Cuban Links bracelet, four diamond rings, a spinning 69 diamond chain, a chain of the Jigsaw character from the movie Saw and a $95,000 My Little Pony necklace with his own rainbow-colored hair.” The rapper reportedly escaped the encounter by jumping from Ellison’s SUV and into a stranger’s car. 

(The controversial rapper cooperated with prosecutors and became a star witness against his former gang mates, and ultimately received a lenient, two-year sentence on his own criminal firearms and racketeering charges. The judge praised his testimony against the gang as “extraordinary” and “extremely useful.”)

The new indictment charges that one of the MCC employees, a unit secretary named Sharon Griffith-McKnight, participated in the smuggling of contraband to Ellison — who was awaiting sentencing in the facility. She then deepened her alleged criminal involvement by writing a letter to the judge in Ellison’s case calling for leniency for a man she termed a “model inmate.”

The judge took the letter at face value: “Unless this is some sort of Grisham novel, and people are all corrupt and making all of this up about [Ellison],” he remarked, “it seems to me that it’s unavoidable that [Ellison’s] trajectory at the MCC contains a lot of good.”

The indictment charges that Griffith-McKnight “did corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding” with her false reporting to the judge, insisting dryly that “Griffith-McNight knew at the time that Ellison was not, in fact, a ‘model inmate.’”

In addition to the smuggling allegations, the indictment charges another MCC employee with having “intimidated and threatened, and caused others to intimidate and threaten” an inmate inside the facility, attempting to prevent this person from revealing the contraband scheme to the feds.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams remarked of the alleged smuggling scheme that the MCC employees had “undermined the institution they swore to serve by conspiring with the very inmates they are charged to protect” and that two of them had made things worse by “obstructing the pursuit of justice.” 

Michael J. Driscoll, the FBI assistant director-in-charge, alleged that the MCC employees “acted like nothing more than the criminals in their charge and assisted incarcerated offenders in committing more crimes.”

The new indictment represents an ignominious — and perhaps final — chapter in the ugly saga of the MCC. In August, the Department of Justice announced its decision “to close the MCC, at least temporarily” to address “issues” that it suggested kept the facility from being “safe and secure.” A dozen members of New York’s congressional delegation wrote a letter to “applaud” the closure.

The inmate population is now officially zero — and the Department has given no indication of when, or whether, MCC will be rehabilitated or returned to service.

Read the Nov. 4 indictment in full, below:


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