NEW YORK – A federal penitentiary officer was arrested Friday for lying to investigators after a loaded gun was found in an inmate’s cell at a federal prison in New York City – the same problematic lockup where financier Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide in 2019.
Greg McKenzie, a guard at the closed Metropolitan Correctional Center, used a prepaid cellphone to communicate with detainees and detainees’ wives before the discovery of the gun in March 2020, but refused to do so when interviewed by federal agents last year, prosecutors said.
McKenzie, 35, of Danbury, Connecticut, was found not guilty of obstruction of justice and making false statements on Friday. They have a combined maximum of 25 years in prison.
McKenzie was released on $ 200,000 bond after being arrested in Manhattan federal court and will have to seek court approval to travel outside the Connecticut and New York City areas.
McKenzie’s lawyer, Aaron Wallenstein, said: “My client has denied any wrongdoing. He answered any question of the law authorities to the best of his knowledge.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons says Mackenzie is currently working as a correctional officer at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, but Wallenstein says he will begin work as a delivery driver on Monday. Allegations of contact with detainee McKenzie were not identified in McKenzie’s charging document.
Ryan Gach, special agent in the Office of the Inspector General of Justice, said in a statement that McKenzie’s alleged lies and obstruction were “particularly disturbing” because a load of firearms in a detainee’s hand endangered not only the prison but the community as a whole.
In a statement, the prison bureau said it was cooperating with the inspector general’s office in an active investigation and “takes seriously our responsibility to protect detainees as well as corrective personnel and the safety of the community.”
“Allegations of staff misconduct are taken seriously and, in line with national policy, are referred for investigation, if necessary,” the agency said. “Incidents of potential criminal activity or misconduct within the BOP facility are thoroughly investigated for possible administrative discipline or criminal prosecution.”
McKenzie was the first person to be charged with involvement in a smuggled handgun, one of several crises that led the Federal Bureau of Prisons to close the Metropolitan Correctional Center, at least temporarily, to address issues plaguing Manhattan facilities last October, including security Including reading. Infrastructure.
The incident, just before the nationwide COVID-19 shutdown began, identified a widespread breach of protocol and raised serious questions about security practices in federal prisons, which hold more than 154,000 detainees.
One of America’s most secure prisons was locked down for a week, with detainees being held in their cells without access to their lawyers or visitors. The searches turned into other prohibited items and led to a criminal investigation into the guard’s misconduct.
Bureau of Prison Officers found the gun inside a wall accessible to a specific room in a housing unit of the Metropolitan Correctional Center on March 5, 2020. Earlier, prosecutors said Mackenzie communicated with the detainee and the detainee’s wife using a prepaid Samsung cellphone he bought on January 30, 2020.
Cellphone records show multiple contacts between McKenzie’s prepaid phone and the detainee’s wife as of January 31, 2020, and indicate that for some time their phones were in the same vicinity of the Bronx, prosecutors allege to the officer.
McKenzie, who was on a one-year temporary appointment at the Metropolitan Correctional Center from December 2019 to December 2020, then went to work on a midnight shift at the prisoner’s housing unit, the complaint said. Allegedly, the security video showed him walking around without going through a stationary metal detector, when he entered the facility.
According to the complaint, phone records show the detainee was called and then a text message was sent to Mackenzie’s prepaid phone around 12:16, and about three minutes later, security video shows Mackenzie walking out of the guard station and into the prison cell area. When carrying an object under his left hand.
During a voluntary interview with two federal law enforcement agents on November 4, 2021, prosecutors stated that Mackenzie had made false statements about the purchase, possession, and use of prepaid cellphones, interfering with the investigation into gun smuggling and other prohibited items in prison.
Epstein committed suicide in prison in August 2019 while awaiting trial for sex trafficking. The death of the wealthy financier led to an intense investigation into the prison and prison bureaus. Two correctional officers accused of sleeping and shopping on the Internet while they were watching Epstein’s unit admitted they had reached an agreement to avoid jail time last year after admitting they had forged records so they appeared to have checked him in.
Balsamo reports from Washington.
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