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.