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Press Release

Former Corrections Officer Sentenced to 12 Months for Bribery and Contraband Scheme

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of North Carolina

NEW BERN, N.C. – Kamel Smallwood, 28, of Greenville, was recently sentenced to 12 months in prison for accepting a bribe as a public official and aiding and abetting.  Smallwood was one of four former employees of Rivers Federal Correctional Institution (Rivers CI), in Winton, to be charged in a five-count indictment on March 2, 2022.  She pled guilty to the charge on July 6, 2022. 

“Public corruption undermines the rule of law and, when it arises in our prisons, endangers corrections officers, staff, and the public,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Easley.  “Smallwood and Sykes put their greed for short term profits ahead of their oath to the public.  We are partnering with the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General to investigate and prosecute corrupt correction officers like these who smuggle contraband into our federal prisons.” 

“Smallwood’s actions undermined the safety and security of the Rivers Federal Correctional Institution.  The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General is committed to rooting out these kinds of bribery schemes and bringing the perpetrators to justice,” said Russell W. Cunningham Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General Washington Field Office.

According to court records and statements made during hearings, in 2019, a former correctional officer at Rivers CI provided the names of several other Rivers CI employees that she believed were bringing contraband into the prison. 

Based on that information, investigators obtained records from CashApp, a mobile application, for individuals including Smallwood and co-defendant Twonisha Sykes.  These showed that between March 2 and March 12, 2019, Smallwood had four transactions or attempted transactions with user “Rico,” an account later confirmed to belong to Rivers CI inmate Francois Toure.  Law enforcement identified a variety of other transactions in which inmates or friends, or family of inmates transferred money to Smallwood. In total, these transactions accounted for well over $10,000. Records showed that Sykes also received numerous CashApp payments from inmate Toure.  In one instance, 10 minutes after Sykes received a $1,200 payment from Toure, she paid the same amount to Smallwood. 

Sykes admitted during a December 2019 interview that she introduced Smallwood to inmate Toure.  Toure then began paying Smallwood to smuggle cigarettes into the prison.  Sykes estimated that Smallwood brought in cigarettes four times, each time plastic wrapped to her body.  Sykes admitted that inmate Toure gave her the money to pay Smallwood for the contraband because Smallwood at first preferred not to deal directly with Toure. 

In March 2020, agents interviewed Francois Toure.  He confirmed that he gave Sykes money to transfer to Smallwood in payment for Smallwood bringing in cigarettes.  He estimated that Smallwood brought in cigarettes on two occasions, with two or three cartons each time.  He said that they arranged for Smallwood to make drops in bathrooms.  He further stated that Smallwood began dealing with another inmate once Toure was sent to the special housing unit for disciplinary reasons.  CashApp records for Smallwood included a memo that bore the second inmate’s name. 

Co-defendant Sykes was sentenced on March 1, 2023 and received a day of custody and three years of supervised release. 

Michael Easley, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Louise W. Flanagan. The Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (DOJ OIG) conducted the investigation.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Jake D. Pugh prosecuted the case.

Related court documents and information can be found on the website of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina or on PACER by searching for Case No. 2:22-cr-0003-FL-001.


Updated May 17, 2023

Public Corruption