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Press Release

Inmate and Corrections Officer Sentenced in Bribery Scheme; Same Inmate Sentenced in Related Covid-Fraud Scheme

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


SAN DIEGO – Shawn Brown, an inmate at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, was sentenced in federal court today to 30 months in prison for bribing a state corrections officer to smuggle contraband into prison, including dental molds and an expensive bejeweled “grill” for the inmate’s mouth.

A separate consecutive sentence of 48 months was also applied for Brown’s role in a scheme to file fraudulent claims with the California Employment Development Department, effectively stealing money that was intended give economic relief to people impacted by the pandemic. Brown was ordered to pay $550,000 in restitution to the State of California.

Benito Jamar Hugie, the corrections officer who helped Brown obtain the grill, was sentenced last month to 24 months in prison. Hugie, who is out on bond, was ordered to surrender by 12 p.m. on May 6, 2024.

Hugie pleaded guilty in November of 2023, admitting that he smuggled the gold-and-diamond grill into the facility in early October, 2020, and delivered it to Brown, who had custom ordered it from a jeweler in Houston, Texas, using a smuggled cell phone. A grill, also known as “fronts” or “golds,” is a type of dental jewelry worn over the teeth. Grills are generally made of metal and precious gems and are generally removable.

According to Brown’s plea agreement, the overall value of the scheme to acquire the custom grill, to bribe the corrections officer and to smuggle the contraband into the prison was more than $30,000.

At today’s hearing, U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo ordered Brown to turn over the grill to the government as part of his forfeiture agreement. Brown had opposed the request, arguing that he was unable to remove the grill because it was glued to his teeth. The government referred to a jail surveillance video that showed that the grill was, in fact, removeable. In this jail surveillance video, Brown was seen removing the grill from his mouth and putting it back in.

The COVID-related fraud scheme was discovered during the investigation of the bribery scheme. Agents learned that while in custody at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, Brown used his contraband cellular telephone to coordinate the theft of unemployment benefits intended for Californians who were unable to pay for food and housing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Brown and co-conspirators caused an estimated $1.4 million in fraudulent claims to be filed with the state Employment Development Department, resulting in actual cash payouts of more than $695,000 to Brown and his co-conspirators.

Brown was originally serving time at the state prison for first degree murder in violation of California Penal Code Section 187(a). At today’s hearing Judge Bencivengo ordered that today’s two federal sentences be served consecutively to each other and to the original underlying state sentence.

“Diamonds are not always your friend,” said U.S. Attorney Tara McGrath. “These schemes have cost Brown years of his life and Hugie his career and good name. Maybe regular teeth would have been a better option.”

“The FBI and our law enforcement partners remain committed to ensuring the integrity of our criminal justice systems,” said FBI San Diego Acting Special Agent in Charge John Kim. “Those who abuse their positions of trust and those who corrupt the same will be held accountable as demonstrated in this investigation.”

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Orlando Gutierrez.

DEFENDANTS         Case Number 22CR1238

Shawn Brown             Age: 28           California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Inmate         

Benito Jamar Hugie    Age: 49           San Diego, CA

DEFENDANT           Case Number 22CR1239                             

Shawn Brown             Age: 28           California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Inmate


  1. Corruption Activities Stemming from the Grill

18 USC § 371                         Conspiracy to Violate the Travel Act- Bribery (Count 1)

                                             Defendants: Hugie, Brown

28 USC § 2461(c)                   Criminal Forfeiture

  1. Indictment 2: Fraud Activities Involving EDD

18 USC § 1349                       Conspiracy; Mail Fraud

                                                Defendants: Brown

28 USC § 2461(c)                   Criminal Forfeiture


Federal Bureau of Investigation

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation


Media Relations Director Kelly Thornton (619) 546-9726 or

Updated April 24, 2024

Public Corruption
Press Release Number: CAS24-0424-Brown