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Identity of Prisoner Who Smuggled Gun into New Jersey Facility Revealed by Appeals Court

Identity of Prisoner Who Smuggled Gun into New Jersey Facility Revealed by Appeals Court

by Gary Hunter

A prisoner accused of smuggling a gun into a New Jersey prison two years ago was identified when he was denied relief by the state’s Superior Court Appellate Division.
Hector Sanabria, 48, was incarcerated at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton when guards found a loaded .32-caliber pistol on the compound on August 4, 2006. The 1,800 prisoners at the facility were locked down for three weeks during an exhaustive search. Three hunting knives and a stash of drugs were also discovered.

Apart from the initial news-splash, the incident was kept quiet by prison officials. But a Superior Court ruling on April 11, 2008 revealed the underlying details.

Sanabria reportedly established a romantic relationship with Luz Rodriguez, who visited the prison as part of a church group called Uncion Divina. According to internal disciplinary charges filed against Sanabria, Ms. Rodriguez accepted money from various prisoners to pay her bills and to do favors for them. She was never directly accused of bringing weapons into the facility.

Sanabria was an active member of a prison group called Hispanic Americans for Progress (HAP). The group was founded by his brother, Jesus, and another prisoner, Carlos Colon. HAP was initially created as a liaison group between prisoners and the prison administration. It evolved into a program that attracted community activists. Ms. Rodriguez participated in some HAP functions along with other visitors.

According to prison authorities, Sanabria used the HAP office to oversee the day-to-day operations of the group’s illegal activities. Court documents state that HAP co-founder Jesus Sanabria started a Security Threat Group (gang) to protect the interests of the organization’s illegal operations. Officials suspect that it was this initiative that resulted in weapons and drugs being brought into the facility.

On October 7, 2006, Sanabria appeared before a prison disciplinary committee and was charged with a variety of institutional infractions. Based on testimony from confidential informants and documents tracking Rodriguez’s prison visits, the committee determined that Sanabria had “participated in unauthorized visits with [Rodriquez] and solicited other inmates to launder monies to conceal transactions,” in “an attempt to circumvent existing security and monitoring procedures of the facility.”

Sanabria’s administrative appeal was denied on November 8, 2006. A separate hearing determined that he should be confined in the Management Control Unit (MCU), the state’s maximum security prison. Sanabria appealed but the committee’s decision was upheld by prison administrator Michelle Ricci.

When asked, DOC spokeswoman Deirdre Fedkenheuer replied, “we will not be releasing specifics about this, or any other investigation. Releasing specifics of an investigation could invite similar behavior in other inmates.”

Sanabria appealed to the Superior Court of New Jersey, raising a variety of due process violations and protesting his confinement in MCU. The court denied relief on April 11, 2008, stating that “Sanabria’s factual and legal contentions ... are without sufficient merit to warrant further discussion in a written opinion,” since his disciplinary conviction was “supported by substantial credible evidence.”

Sanabria is currently serving a ninety-year sentence for murder, aggravated assault and various drug and weapons-related offenses. See: Sanabria v. Department of Corrections; 2008 WL 990791.

Additional source: Star-Ledger

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Related legal case

Sanabria v. Department of Corrections