Baltimore, Maryland – A federal jury convicted correctional officer Jessica Vennie, age 28, of Crowley, Texas, on July 5, 2018, for racketeering at the Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover, Maryland, as well as drug and money laundering conspiracies. The scheme involved paying bribes to correctional officers to smuggle contraband, including narcotics, tobacco, and cell phones, into the prison. The jury acquitted correctional officer Jocelyn Byrd, age 41, of Salisbury, Maryland.
The conviction was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur; Special Agent in Charge Gordon B. Johnson of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office; and Secretary Stephen T. Moyer of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS).
According to the information presented at the nine-day trial, Vennie was a correctional officer at the Eastern Correctional Institution (ECI), the largest state prison in Maryland, operating since 1987, in Somerset County, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. ECI is a medium-security prison for men built as two identical compounds (East and West) on 620 acres, and housing more than 3,300 inmates. Vennie was assigned to the East Compound.
The evidence at trial showed that from about 2015, until October 5, 2016, Vennie and other correctional officers (COs) smuggled contraband into ECI, including narcotics, cell phones, pornographic DVDs, and tobacco. These items were distributed by inmates, and the COs managed the proceeds of the sales. The “going rate” for a CO to smuggle contraband into ECI was $500 per package, although some COs charged more and others less. According to the trial testimony, inmates and facilitators paid COs for smuggled contraband in cash, money orders, and through PayPal. Inmates were able to use contraband cell phones to pay COs directly using PayPal from within ECI.
The evidence showed that Vennie conspired to smuggle narcotics into ECI, including Suboxone and synthetic cannabinoids (otherwise known as “K2”). Although COs and other ECI employees were required to pass through security screening at the entrance to ECI, Vennie and other COs were able to hide contraband on their persons. Further, COs took breaks during their shifts and returned to their cars to retrieve contraband. Once Vennie and the other COs had the smuggled contraband inside the facility, they delivered it to: inmates in their cells; clerks’ offices, which were private offices within each housing unit where an inmate clerk worked; the officers’ dining room where officers could interact with inmate servers and kitchen workers; and pre-arranged “stash” locations like staff bathrooms, storage closets, laundry rooms, and other places where contraband could be hidden and then later retrieved by inmates.
Vennie and her co-defendant were the final defendants remaining in this case. As a result of this verdict, 77 of the 80 defendants have now been convicted, including 16 of the 18 correctional officers charged. All the defendants who have been sentenced to date have been ordered to serve a term of imprisonment, ranging from a year and a day in prison to 65 months in prison.
Vennie faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison each for the racketeering conspiracy, for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute K2, and for the money laundering conspiracy. Chief Judge James K. Bredar has scheduled Vennie’s sentencing for October 5, 2018.
The United States. Attorney expressed appreciation to Secretary Moyer whose staff initiated the ECI investigation and who has made the full resources of the DPSCS available to assist in the three-year investigation.
United States Attorney Hur commended the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, the Baltimore Police Department, and the Maryland State Police for their work in the investigation. Mr. Hur thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Leo J. Wise, Robert R. Harding, and Daniel C. Gardner, who are prosecuting this Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force case.