Today, a federal jury in Brooklyn convicted James Albert of conspiracy to violate the Travel Act and conspiracy to distribute controlled substances while he was incarcerated at the George R. Vierno Center at Rikers Island (GRVC) as part of a scheme to bribe correction officers to smuggle illegal drugs and other contraband into the jail for sale to other inmates. The verdict followed a four-day trial before United States District Judge Ann M. Donnelly. When sentenced, Albert faces a maximum of 15 years in prison.
Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, announced the verdict.
“Today’s verdict holds the defendant accountable for conspiring with corrupt correction officers to facilitate his lucrative drug-selling business from which he generated tens of thousands of dollars from his Rikers Island jail cell. Such lawless conduct by the defendant and his co-conspirators undermines the orderly running of the institution and endangers the safety of other incarcerated individuals and Department of Correction personnel,” stated United States Attorney Peace. “This Office will continue working with our federal and local law enforcement partners to disrupt the flow of illegal narcotics and other contraband into correctional facilities.”
Mr. Peace thanked the Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office, and the New York City Department of Investigation for their outstanding investigative work on the case.
As proven at trial, while he was incarcerated at GRVC between February and June 2019, Albert orchestrated a scheme to bribe at least two officers to bring marijuana, suboxone strips, and other contraband into GRVC for sale and distribution to other inmates. Albert also enlisted his wife, co-defendant Celena Burgess, to receive money from inmates and pay thousands of dollars in bribes to the correction officers on the defendant’s behalf using the electronic money-transfer platform Cash App.
The government’s evidence included testimony from Patrick Legerme, a former New York City Correction Officer who accepted bribes from Albert to smuggle marijuana into the jail and described how he smuggled drugs into the jail. Legerme pleaded guilty to conspiring to accept bribes and is awaiting sentencing. The government’s evidence also included testimony from Burgess that she managed the Cash App transactions for the defendant and received payments from other inmates for the items that Albert had sold them. Burgess testified as part of a deferred prosecution agreement with the government. In addition to financial and phone records and expert testimony, the jury heard recorded telephone calls in which inmates used coded language in their conversations. For example, “Oakland Raider jerseys” referred to marijuana, “oranges” was code for suboxone strips, and “Pink Panties” referred to a correction officer.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Laura Zuckerwise, Joy Lurinsky and Andrew D. Reich with the assistance of Paralegal Specialist Rachel Friedman.
Comstock, New York
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 20-CR-64 (AMD)