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Maryland prison guard pleads guilty in drug smuggling scheme; five other officers involved, official says

Maryland prison guard pleads guilty in drug smuggling scheme; five other officers involved, official says
This is the staff and visitor entrance to the Eastern Correctional Institution Annex. At least six correction officers have been charged with smuggling drugs and other items into the prison as part of a large conspiracy. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

A corrections officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal racketeering charges for her part in a scheme to distribute synthetic cannabinoids and opioid addiction treatment drugs at Eastern Correctional Institution in Somerset County.

Hope Gladden, 35, of Salisbury admitted to smuggling buprenorphine, more commonly known as the opioid addiction treatment drug “Suboxone,” and synthetic cannabinoids into the prison from 2016 through November 2018. She pleaded guilty to the racketeering charges in U.S. District Court in Baltimore as part of a larger, ongoing federal investigation into officers at the prison.

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Gerard Shields, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said that five other officers who worked at the Westover prison on the Eastern Shore have been indicted in the case and have since been fired. He did not know their names.

A spokeswoman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to name others involved in the scheme.

Despite the fact that federal authorities announced in October 2016 that they had indicted 80 people for smuggling various drugs and contraband into the prison, there is no indication the cases are related.

Prosecutors alleged in charging documents that Gladden and other officers fostered an environment where inmates who reported the scheme to prison authorities would face potential retaliation from other inmates.

“When Gladden and other [corrections officers] learned that inmates were providing information to the prison administration or ‘snitching’ or ‘telling,’ Gladden and other [corrections officers] would alert conspirator inmates so that the inmates could retaliate against these ‘snitching’ inmates, sometimes violently,” charging documents state.

According to Gladden’s plea agreement, after she started working for the department in the fall of 2015, she “solicited and received bribes in exchanges for bringing contraband into ECI including, specifically Suboxone and synthetic cannabinoids, also known as K2.”

Gladden was also charged with having sex with inmates in exchange for smuggling contraband into the jail and monitoring inmates who reported the smuggled contraband to other prison authorities.

She ultimately pleaded guilty only to smuggling drugs into the prison with the help of two inmates. She faces up to 20 years in federal prison.

An attorney for Gladden declined to comment, saying the case was ongoing.

Gladden’s plea agreement states that she worked with two inmates — Ishmael Valdez and Charles Owens — to have the drugs and contraband sent to a P.O. box she owned in Fruitland. She would then smuggle them into the prison in exchange for money and other favors.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on whether Valdez and Owens have been charged.

In a statement, Robert L. Green, secretary of the state’s Public Safety and Correctional Services, which oversees the state’s prisons, wrote that Gladden’s case is representative of ongoing oversight of the prison’s operations.

“Drugs fuel prison violence, and we have prosecuted close to 200 correctional officers, inmates and citizen accomplices involved in prison corruption over the last four years,” Green wrote. “This case shows that we do not intend to take our foot off the accelerator and will continue to hold accountable those who fail to live up to their oath to protect the public, our staff and those in custody.”

The fact that Gladden pleaded guilty to smuggling buprenorphine highlights an underground market for opioid addiction treatment at Maryland’s state prisons.

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In January, the Maryland State Prosecutor’s Office wrapped up a two-year investigation into drug smuggling at the Jessup Correctional Institution where 18 people were convicted of smuggling contraband, including Suboxone, into the prison.

According to the state corrections department, of the 7,400 people incarcerated in Maryland’s jails and the 18,600 in state prisons, about 70 percent suffer from substance abuse or dependence.

Shields said the Westover prison does not have medication-assisted treatment, adding that the Baltimore Pretrial Complex is the only state facility that offers medically assisted methadone treatment.

In May, Gov. Larry Hogan signed a bill that requires all county jails and Baltimore’s state-run detention facility to provide addiction screening, counseling and treatment with three federally approved medications.

However, the bill stopped short of requiring the treatment at state prisons after the state corrections department scaled back the legislation. Officials have said they would study the possibility of expanding the effort into state prisons.

Baltimore Sun reporter Doug Donovan contributed to this article.

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