Amid Criticism Over COBA Donations, Bronx DA Announces Indictment of Correction Officer

By Eric Klein and Sasha Gonzales
eklein@bronxjusticenews.com, sgonzales@bronxjusticenews.com

Two days after a media report criticizing Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark for accepting campaign donations from the city’s jail guard union, her office announced the unsealing of an indictment against a correction officer who allegedly helped smuggle heroin onto Rikers Island.

Jason Prieto, 40, a three-year veteran of the Department of Correction, along with Rikers inmate Anthony Rusielwicz, 41, and Luz Pagan, 54, of the Bronx, were indicted in October. The three were arraigned on charges including conspiracy, drug possession, and bribery Wednesday, when the indictments were unsealed. Their arraignment date was set in advance, on the day the grand jury voted to indict, prosecutors said.

Prieto was also charged with official misconduct and receiving a bribe, prosecutors said.

The trio is accused of smuggling heroin and tobacco into a Rikers Island jail between February and April 2018. That month, a drug sniffing dog named Gunner caught Prieto with 11 glassine bags of heroin, loose tobacco, and rolling papers, prosecutors said.

“The defendants allegedly fueled corruption and danger on Rikers Island by smuggling heroin and other contraband for sale or trade behind bars,” Clark said in a written statement. “The Correction Officer stands accused of tarnishing his badge and jeopardizing the safety of his fellow officers.”

Department of Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett, whose office helped break up the smuggling ring, said “officers providing illegal favors for certain inmates is a threat to good order and discipline in the jails, making them less safe for inmates and officers alike.”

Prieto is being held on $2,000 bail and Rusielwicz on $10,000 bail. Pagan is free on his own recognizance. Their attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment.

The announcement of their indictment came in the wake of a report by the nonprofit news site The City reporting that the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, which represents jail guards at Rikers, was Clark’s biggest single contributor during her two campaigns for district attorney. A grand jury voted to indict the trio last month, before The City report was published.

The Bronx District Attorney’s Office has prosecuted a number of correction officers since Clark took office, records show, including a former DOC Captain sentenced to probation and community service Thursday for beating a Rikers Island inmate in 2016, then lying about the incident in official paperwork.

Clark, who ran unopposed in Tuesday’s election, received $22,000 in campaign donations from the union in the current election cycle. Her office investigates and prosecutes guards on Rikers and other city jails, so donations from their union could create a potential conflict of interest, critics told The City.

A number of other DA’s across the U.S. also accept donations from jail guard unions whose members they prosecute. In New York, according to The City, only Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and two state lawmakers have received more from the jail guard union during the past decade.

About Eric Klein 14 Articles
Eric Klein is an editor for Bronx Justice News. Born and bred in the Bronx, he lives on the Grand Concourse, where at least one member of his family has resided every year since the 1930s. Eric has two sons and, like them, is a die-hard New York Yankees fan.