CMC guard accused of smuggling cell phones

July 18, 2011


After surveillance video at the California Men’s Colony (CMC) in San Luis Obispo County allegedly captured a correctional officer smuggling a cell phone into the prison, the accused guard retired immediately and allegedly boasted that he made more than $100,000 a year selling mobile devices to inmates.

Lt. Dean Spears, CMC’s information officer, said that he was unable to provide details about allegations that correctional officer Miguel Mendes had been videotaped smuggling cell phones into the prison because of an ongoing criminal investigation into Mendes’ activities.

Mendes, who retired on June 10 after 17 years at the prison and a previously clean record, said he was also unable to speak about the matter.

Even so, several CMC guards, who prefer to remain unnamed to protect their employment, said that some guards, upon reaching retirement age, routinely smuggle cell phones and tobacco into the prison. When caught, they quickly retire and generally do not face criminal action, the employees said.

On his way out Mendes bragged not only about his profits, but also that he had been running the scheme over a multi-year span, the employees said. Cell phones in prison, which are frequently used to direct criminal activity, sell for hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of dollars if they arrive Internet-ready.

Spears, who verified that cell phones are a problem at the prison, said people often deliver phones to inmates by tossing them over fences at the West Facility, as well as at the minimum-security camp section of the Men’s Colony.

“Being so close to the highway and land that is not state property gives people easy access to the institution,” Spears said. “We find stuff on our grounds all the time: tobacco, cell phones, drug paraphernalia.”

During the past year, as many as six packages containing drugs, tobacco and cell phones have been found near the West Facility wall in one night alone. Inmates allegedly set up the contraband drops using smuggled cell phones already inside the prison.

“People get dropped of on Highway 1, walk down the creek and throw the objects, generally wrapped in a sock, over the fence,” one longtime guard said. “It is the biggest breach of security I have ever seen at the facility.

“Someone could throw a gun over the fence and an officer could be killed,” the guard added. “They (prison officials) have known about this for over a year and they have done nothing to stop it.”

Not all of this contraband, however, comes from outsiders. Correctional officers said that about four cases of employee smuggling occur each year at CMC, usually involving prison contractors, people who come on the grounds to work on construction projects.

An incident similar to the one involving Mendes occurred five years ago when surveillance footage caught correctional officer Richard Granados allegedly smuggling tobacco into the prison. Guards said that Granados, too, boasted about his profits, claiming he made $100,000 and paid for his daughter’s medical school expenses through illegal tobacco sales.

When contacted, Granados denied the allegations and said he never brought any contraband into the Men’s Colony.

Like Mendes, Granados retired after his alleged offense, keeping his pension intact and remaining eligible for other government jobs. Prosecutors never filed charges against him.

Correctional officers said that complicit prison guards frequently escape charges of smuggling contraband into prison. Since the disciplinary process is expensive and creates bad publicity, California prisons are often content with merely accepting resignations from offending officers.

Kern County, however, bucked that trend last month by sentencing Avenal State Prison correctional officer Randy Motl to a three-year prison sentence for bribery. Motl admitted to distributing cell phones and tobacco to inmates in exchange for cash, electronic devices and toys for his children.

Cell phones have become abundant in prisons. In 2006, prison officials confiscated 261 cell phones inside California prisons. By 2010, the amount of phones grabbed by prison workers had risen to 10,761.

It is a misdemeanor to introduce contraband into a prison, and a bill, SB26, specifically criminalizing the delivery of cell phones to inmates was approved by the California legislature on June 2.

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Arrogance, greed, stupidity. What’s a retiring guard supposed to do?

Let’s turn the IRS on his trail, and any other accused guard who retires as soon as they are caught. The IRS isn’t nearly as forgiving as the corrupt, ‘good ol’ boy’ prison system.

if found guilty they should get more time than the average person..just like an officer of the law they know better.they should triple their sentence if they are found guilty.there is no excuse for what they did. me and my wife just moved to the ocean here and these stories are crazy.seriously they should throw the book at these guys but instead they are letting them retire and collect retirement and benefits at the people of california’s expense.enough is enough..fry the morons

Why doesn’t the prison system electronically jam cell phone usage on the prison grounds? End of problem. Yeah, yeah, I know, they need cell phones to do their “jobs.” What a diaper load.

So if many of the cell phones are used to direct criminal activity, when will the system be smart enough to use this to their advantage? Set up a sting operation where the phones are tapped and use their activity to the advantage of detectives. Do that a half dozen times and word would get around. Knowing that others might be listening to your conversation, the demand might go down.

I have to take exception to one part of this article.A lot of us older guards who did our time and paid our dues would not even consider bringing things to inmates for some very simple reasons.A)Honor- It would be a betrayal to our partners and put our selves in harms way-who needs more of that in there.B)If you get that involved with the inmates you are going to get burned if you have any time in you know that .I’ve seen many fall in to that trap over the years ,some I still wonder about.Most times the institution would let these people resign rather then the expense of going to court.It is also a real shame when one goes to court and walks away fairly untouched by the outcome because some lawyer spin on things that a naive jury bought-like in the Rivera case (not mentioned in the article).I saw the biggest change when tobacco became illegal on grounds,cell phone soon followed.There are guards out there now that expect to be take care of from day one .No first watch ,rdo or vacation relief,burn every sick day that comes up to go party,these people get walked out a lot but not reported as they should be.Years ago a Sergeant was assaulted on grounds while outside the perimeter nothing changed any one can still drive on grounds to this day.One day they will not be on grounds to leave things for the inmates but to break some one out!

I think everyone is missing the point. Our prison population is too large, Our guards are way overpaid for being high school flunkys (well many of them). From what I heard most of the prisoners with cell phones use them to talk to family although some direct activity from within. What’s wrong with the whole situation is the penalty for a prisoner getting caught with a cell phone is much much worse than a guard. Until that changes, the problem won’t slow down.

Funny , look at the loser guards giving me negative marks.

don’t they have phones there(at the prison) for them to talk to their families?i’m sure if let out these criminals would be at home tucking their kids in bed and just being a productive member of society(sorry that was hard to get out without laughing).come on get real

I am real. In fact, I have an employee who got out of a one year stint in prison and he confirmed what I said above. He actually got caught with a cell phone that he used to call his young son (5) and had all sorts of trouble come from it. So yes, some do use them to call families. For your information, there are a lot of non-violent people in prison. Not everyone is a Charlie Manson if you didn’t know. The media loves to portray all prisoners as a bunch of killers when many are not.