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Press Release

Former San Quentin Prison Guard Sentenced To 20 Months In Prison For Accepting Bribes To Smuggle Contraband Into Death Row

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of California

SAN FRANCISCO – Former Corrections Officer Keith Christopher was sentenced today to 20 months in prison for his role in a conspiracy to smuggle contraband into San Quentin State Prison (SQP), announced United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Robert K. Tripp. The sentence was handed down by the Hon. Susan Illston, United States Senior District Judge.

Christopher, 38, of Pittsburg, Calif., pleaded guilty to crimes related to the conspiracy on September 16, 2022. Christopher was employed as a Correctional Officer at SQP and, as described in the indictment, worked in SQP’s East Block, known as Death Row. He admitted in his plea agreement that he accepted payments as bribes in exchange for smuggling at least 25 contraband cell phones into SQP. Cell phones are deemed contraband for prisoners in all parts of the prison as they create safety and security risks for prison employees, other inmates, and the public at large when used by inmates to direct criminal activity outside the prison. The California Code of Regulations accordingly prohibits prisoners from possessing cell phones. 

Christopher admitted in his plea agreement that he delivered cell phones and accessories, such as chargers, to a condemned inmate who then sold many of the phones to other inmates. Christopher acknowledged that as early as 2019, he orchestrated a conspiracy involving an inmate; co-conspirators Isaiah Wells, 32, of Tracy, Calif., Tanisa Smith-Symes, 46, of Las Vegas, NV, and Dustin Albini, 37, of Pittsburg, CA; and others. Christopher’s plea agreement includes descriptions of two instances in which he arranged to receive bribes in exchange for smuggling cell phones into the prison. In the first instance, the prison inmate working with Christopher arranged for 10 cell phones to be shipped to the Nevada residence of an associate. That associate was Smith-Symes. According to Christopher, in December 2019, the inmate arranged for a package containing 10 cell phones to be delivered to Smith-Symes’ residence in Nevada. Christopher acknowledged that he directed Smith-Symes to send the phones to Albini who delivered the phones to Christopher. Christopher further admitted that he sent a text message to Smith-Symes establishing that he would smuggle the cell phones into the prison for $5,000 and that the money should be sent using Venmo and Walmart money transfers—some of the money through Albini and some through Wells. The second incident described in Christopher’s plea agreement involves an agreement in May of 2020, in which Christopher arranged to smuggle an additional 15 cell phones into SQP for a payment of $7,500. The cell phones again were delivered first to Smith-Symes, but this time were routed through Wells who then delivered them to Christopher. Christopher agreed with the inmate to reduce his fee for this second smuggling transaction and, ultimately, Christopher delivered the phones to the inmate for a $6,500, a small portion of which went to Wells in exchange for his participation in the conspiracy.

On September 29, 2021, federal grand jury indicted Christopher, Wells, Albini, and Smith-Symes charging each with conspiracy to commit honest services fraud (bribery), in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341, 1343, 1346, and 1349, and various other crimes in accordance with their particular role in the scheme. Christopher pleaded guilty to the count alleging conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and to two counts of accepting bribes, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1)(B).

In addition to Christopher’s prison term, Judge Illston ordered Christopher to serve three years of supervised release that will begin after the conclusion of his prison term. Judge Illston ordered Christopher to surrender on or before May 25, 2023, to begin serving his prison term.

The case is being prosecuted by the Special Prosecutions Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the FBI and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Office of Internal Affairs.

Updated February 24, 2023