Avenel Man Sentenced To 5 Years For Smuggling Cell Phones & Drugs Into Prison

TRENTON – A former correction officer at Northern State Prison in Newark was sentenced to prison today for smuggling pre-paid cell phones and drugs into the prison as part of a smuggling network, Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced.

Luis S. Roman, 48, of Avenel, was sentenced to five years in state prison without possibility of parole by Superior Court Judge Bradley J. Ferencz in Middlesex County. He pleaded guilty to official misconduct, admitting that he smuggled cell phones and drugs into the prison for a network of inmates who solicited customers and distributed the contraband. He smuggled contraband into the prison several times a week, including pre-paid cell phones, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, hiding the items in his protective vest and boots.

A former inmate who served as an organizer and middleman for the smuggling network, Willie Wade, 48, was sentenced on May 21, to 10 years in prison by Ferencz. He pleaded guilty on Jan. 23 to second-degree racketeering, admitting that between July and November 2009, he would distribute five to six cell phones per week and large quantities of heroin and marijuana that Roman smuggled into Northern State Prison. Wade had completed his previous term before pleading guilty.

“By conspiring in this smuggling network, Roman put the public and the security of others in the prison at risk, giving inmates the ability to communicate surreptitiously by cell phone with criminal associates on the outside, including fellow gang members, and adding narcotics to the already volatile environment of the prison,” said Chiesa. “This was an outrageous betrayal of his oath and duties as a correction officer.”

“We’ve now secured convictions in the form of guilty pleas and, in most instances, substantial prison time for all of the defendants we charged with running this smuggling ring at Northern State Prison,” said Stephen J. Taylor, director of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We’ll continue to work closely with the Department of Corrections and State Police to uncover and aggressively prosecute those who seek to smuggle cell phones and drugs into our state prisons.”

Deputy Attorney General Cassandra Serentino took the guilty pleas and handled the sentencings for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau. The charges stem from Operation Empire, a joint investigation by the New Jersey State Police, the Department of Corrections and the Division of Criminal Justice.

On Sept. 15, 2010, Roman and 18 other defendants who allegedly distributed contraband in the prison or acted as accomplices outside the prison were charged with racketeering and conspiracy in a state grand jury indictment obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice. Separate indictments obtained that month charged 16 inmates who bought contraband. All of the defendants have now pleaded guilty and been sentenced.

The Department of Corrections Special Investigations Division began looking into the possibility of a correction officer or other prison worker smuggling contraband into Northern State Prison after numerous wireless phones of the same makes and models were confiscated from inmates. The joint investigation by the State Police and the Department of Corrections began in July 2009.

The inmates had family members or friends outside the prison who acted as accomplices by buying phones and drugs and packaging them for delivery to Roman. The investigation revealed that inmates paid for the items by having money wired to Roman’s wife or another accomplice on the outside. Roman’s smuggling continued from at least August 2007 to Nov. 14, 2009, when he was arrested with his wife, from whom he is now divorced.

Wade and another inmate, Angel Vasquez, 55, served as the organizers and middlemen for the scheme, employing numerous other inmates as distributers to canvass the prison for customers and deliver the contraband after it was smuggled inside by Roman. The customers agreed to pay a fee for the contraband. For example, if an inmate wanted a pre-paid cell phone, he would have to pay up to $400, plus an additional $200 as a “shipment fee.” The middlemen and distributors each received a certain amount of money, and the rest of the money went to Roman. For his role in the scheme, Vasquez was sentenced on Aug. 8, 2011 to seven years in state prison, which he must serve consecutively to the current sentence he is serving for manslaughter.

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