San Quentin ex-guard, conspirators admit cellphone smuggling scheme


A former guard at San Quentin State Prison, his half-brother, another associate and the romantic partner of a death row inmate have pleaded guilty in a smuggling ring to slip cellphones to inmates.

The defendants are Keith Christopher, 38, of Pittsburg; Dustin Albini, 38, of Pittsburg; Isaiah Wells, 33, of Tracy; and Tanisa Smith-Symes, 46, of Las Vegas. They each pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and bribery, according to a statement Monday from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California.

Christopher, the former guard, made thousands of dollars on the scheme, with some of his confederates also getting payoffs, prosecutors said. When the phones made it inside the prison, an unnamed death row inmate would sell them to other inmates for his own profit, according to the government’s case.

The conspirators used Amazon, Cash App and Venmo to move merchandise and money.

In November 2020, prison guards found a cellphone in the jacket of a prisoner named only as “Inmate 1” in court records. When agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation analyzed the phone, they connected the first inmate to a second, as well as to Christopher and the other defendants on the outside of the prison, according to an affidavit from FBI Special Agent Candace Bond.

Inmate 1 and “Inmate 2,” also on death row, had cellphones delivered through Amazon to Smith-Symes, who’d begun a “romantic relationship” with Inmate 1 in 2018, according to prosecutors.

Christopher admitted he directed Smith-Symes to send 10 of those phones to Albini’s home, where Christopher collected them and later sneaked them into San Quentin, according to prosecutors. Smith-Symes then sent $5,000 to Albini and Wells, which Christopher collected.

In May 2020 they repeated the scheme, only this time Smith-Symes sent 15 phones through Wells, who is Christopher’s half-brother, according to prosecutors. In this shipment, Christopher agreed to a discount — $6,500 instead of $7,500 — at Inmate 1’s request, with Wells pocketing $500.

At one point in the scheme, one of Inmate 1’s contacts, named as “JB1,” complained that “Dude” was only bringing in cellphones, and not marijuana or heroin, which would reap higher profits for the inmates reselling the contraband.

“Don’t trip crip you still getting money,” Inmate 1 responded, according to Owens’ affidavit.

Christopher was arrested at San Quentin on Sept. 7, 2021, while Wells was arrested at home and Smith-Symes in Las Vegas.

Although not named in the original federal complaint, Albini was named along with the other three in an indictment handed up by a federal grand jury on Sept. 29, 2021. Christopher was fired the next day, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

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Source:: The Mercury News

      

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