NEWARK, N.J. – An Essex County corrections officer and his girlfriend were arrested today for conspiring to smuggle contraband into the prison facility at which he was employed to be resold to prisoners, U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger announced.
Efrin Wade, 34, and Yairisa Lizardo, 29, both of Jersey City, are charged by complaint with extortion under color of official right. The defendants appeared today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael A. Hammer in Newark federal court and were released on $100,000 each unsecured bond.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
In January 2023, Wade, who had served as a corrections officer at Essex County Correctional Facility (ECCF) since February 2020, began communicating with an individual whom he believed was seeking to smuggle contraband to inmates at ECCF for sale to other inmates. Unbeknownst to Wade, this individual was in reality an undercover FBI agent. Wade agreed to smuggle tobacco and cell phones, both of which inmates at ECCF are forbidden to possess. On Feb. 1, 2023, Wade sent Lizardo to meet with the undercover agent in a parking lot in Bayonne, New Jersey, where she accepted $10,000 in cash and a substantial quantity of tobacco for Wade to smuggle into ECCF. Over the subsequent weeks, Wade left this tobacco in concealed locations within ECCF believing it would be retrieved by inmates. However, law enforcement recovered these items after Wade relayed the concealed locations to the undercover agent.
On Feb. 8, 2023, Wade met the undercover agent in a parking lot in Jersey City, where Wade took possession of a cell phone concealed within tobacco. After smuggling this contraband into ECCF, law enforcement recovered it in a concealed location where Wade had left it for inmates to retrieve. On Feb. 15, 2023, Wade met with the undercover agent in the same parking lot in Jersey City and accepted an additional $4,000 for his smuggling activities. Wade also explained his plans to smuggle in an additional 15 contraband cell phones, which were to be supplied to him by the undercover agent. Wade expected to be paid at least $30,000 for smuggling these cell phones into ECCF in late March. Wade expected that the cell phones would then be resold to inmates for approximately $5,000 per phone. When approached by agents during his shift at ECCF during the early morning hours of March 14, 2023, Wade was found to be in possession of multiple packs of contraband cigarettes as well as tobacco packs and cigars.
The extortion charge is punishable by a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine.
U.S. Attorney Sellinger credited special agents with the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge James E. Dennehy in Newark, and investigators of the Internal Affairs Unit of the Essex County Department of Corrections, under the direction of Ronald Charles, with the investigation leading to today’s arrests.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark J. McCarren of the Special Prosecutions Division in Newark.
The charges and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.