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Ohio Prison Employees Involved in Improper Relationships, Drug Smuggling, Sexual Misconduct

Four Ohio prison employees resigned or were fired amid an investigation into their improper relationships with prisoners, while in unrelated incidents four state prison guards were accused of sexual misconduct, smuggling drugs and soliciting bribes.

The Lorain/Medina Community-Based Correctional Facility (CBCF), a secure rehabilitation and substance abuse treatment center for low-security Ohio prisoners, has come under scrutiny for inappropriate relationships involving staff members.

CBCF Executive Director Mike Willets offered few details about the investigation but suggested that “out there in the population it was a slow rumor that some people were getting preferential treatment, some people were getting this, some people were getting that.”

One of those people was apparently Program Director Sandra Wright, who joined CBCF in 1997 and rose in the ranks to one of the facility’s top positions. Wright, formerly a juvenile probation officer, was suspended on August 21, 2008 and resigned less than two weeks later rather than attend “a predisciplinary hearing on allegations she had ‘unauthorized relationships with residents’ and other ethics violations.”

Willets also ended a longstanding relationship with Wright’s church, Worship Cathedral Inc., where CBCF prisoners had performed community service for several years. Questions had been raised about whether the work the prisoners were doing was appropriate. “There was work on perhaps some parishioners’ houses,” Willets admitted. He also acknowledged that Wright may have received discounts on merchandise she bought from a prisoner, including a television, but did not elaborate.

Two full-time resident advisors at CBCF also resigned during the investigation. Maxwell Wicks had worked at the facility since 2000 with very few infractions, but on September 8, 2008 he was “accused of exchanging sexual favors with current or former residents, using his position to secure ‘privileges and advantages,’ losing his objectivity, negligence, doing private work at the CBCF and dishonesty for failing to cooperate with an investigation.” Rather than face a September 11, 2008 disciplinary hearing, Wicks chose to quit.

Deborah Donald, who was initially hired as a part-time cook at CBCF before being promoted to resident advisor in 2006, resigned on August 21, 2008. She had repeatedly skipped training classes over the past two years, and a performance review indicated that she “at times may be too close to residents.”

On August 22, 2008, part-time resident advisor Cassandra Allen was fired from CBCF after less than two weeks on the job when she admitted during the investigation “to engaging in activities with current and former CBCF residents that violated the facility’s code of ethics.” She had previously worked as a case manager at the prison from 1999 until March 2008.

Representatives from the county prosecutor’s office and Adult Probation Department had participated in the investigation, but Assistant County Prosecutor Dave Muhek declined to comment. Willets did not believe the investigation reflected poorly on CBCF, because “policing your own place makes it a bit more respectable,” he said.

In an unrelated incident, Stephen Howard, 49, a state prison guard at the Warren Correctional Institute, was arrested on March 24, 2009 on felony charges of attempting to convey drugs onto the grounds of a detention facility and possession of criminal tools. Howard had tried to smuggle marijuana into the prison in hollowed-out markers and a Subway sandwich. Two prisoners also were charged.

Iona D. Cowan, 60, resigned from the Lebanon Correctional Institution on June 12, 2009 after being interviewed by the Ohio State Highway Patrol. She was later indicted on four counts of sexual battery, based on allegations that she had sex with an unidentified prisoner on multiple occasions. She was released on bond.

Orient Reception Center guard Herb Edwards resigned in July 2009 during an investigation into whether he had solicited bribes to smuggle contraband into the prison, including cigarettes and clothing. According to news reports, Edwards, who worked as a mail screener at the facility, asked prisoners for money and a video game system in exchange for supplying the contraband items. He has not been charged.

Edwards was one of eight prison employees involved in a 2004 incident in which a prisoner was transported across the state while naked. He received a suspension as a result of that episode, and two other guards were fired.

Lastly, another Lebanon Correctional Institution guard was arrested on October 2, 2009, for attempting to smuggle marijuana into the facility. Dennis O’Rourke, 25, faces charges of attempting to convey drugs and child endangerment. O’Rourke was meeting with his supplier to pick up the marijuana when he was busted by State Highway Patrol troopers. He had his two-year-old daughter with him at the time.

Sources: The Chronicle-Telegram, Dayton Daily News,,,

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