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Pennsylvania Prison Guard Convicted in Drug Probe, Testifies Against Coworkers

Former Luzerne County Correctional Facility guard John Gonda, known as “G-Unit,” was the subject of an investigation called Operation Avalanche after authorities received tips he was selling “large quantities [of drugs] in the Wilkes-Barre area.” The probe targeted the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, and Gonda was among 22 people charged in connection with a $3.6 million cocaine distribution ring.

When investigators raided Gonda’s home they found six bags of cocaine, a marijuana pipe, a digital scale and seven firearms. The charging affidavit said he was an “associate” of the Outlaws. He was convicted on charges of participating in a corrupt organization, conspiracy to deliver cocaine and delivery of cocaine.

Sentenced in November 2010 to one-to-two years in prison, Gonda was made immediately eligible for work release by Luzerne County Senior Judge Chester B. Muroski. Gonda obtained a job as a property manager, which permitted him to leave prison during the work week from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Shortly after Gonda was sentenced, Judge Muroski also granted his request for weekend furloughs, which allowed him to be released from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on weekends for “family care hours.” His furlough request noted that before being jailed he cared for his totally disabled father.

Of course, Gonda’s willingness to testify against other Luzerne County prison employees may have helped him receive a lenient sentence, work release and weekend furloughs.
Gonda, described as a key witness, testified in March 2011 that he had purchased cocaine from former Luzerne County prison guard Christopher J. Walsh, 29. Another guard, Joseph Ciampi, 43, who was named in grand jury records as buying cocaine but not charged, also testified against Walsh.

In addition to Walsh, prison guard Jason D. Fierman, former prison nurse Kevin D. Warman and former prison Capt. John M. Carey were charged on March 10, 2011 with drug-related offenses as part of Operation Broken Trust. Carey was accused of receiving cocaine from other prison employees, including Gonda, and from former prisoners.
Fierman allegedly sold cocaine and prescription drugs inside the prison, while Warman was accused of using fake names or the names of prisoners to obtain prescription drugs from pharmacies. Warman and Carey had previously been fired; Walsh and Fierman were suspended following their arrests.

“Any allegations that individuals in positions of authority are using their powers to commit crimes or compromise law enforcement activities are an extremely serious matter,” said Acting Attorney General Bill Ryan. “These crimes are not only a violation of the public trust but also a clear threat to public safety.”

Although not criminally charged, Ciampi was suspended without pay for 18 days and later demoted in April 2011. “He was not arrested, but we believe some of his actions were of poor judgment. He accepted the demotion,” said Assistant County Solicitor Stephen Menn. Ciampi resigned the following month.

Despite the damning testimony from Gonda and Ciampi, Walsh was acquitted at trial on March 7, 2012, with the jury deliberating for just over an hour. According to Walsh’s attorney, Walsh will seek to regain his job as a prison guard.

Carey pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of possession of a controlled substance and was sentenced in January 2012 to 18 months’ probation. Warman pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining prescription drugs; he was sentenced on May 11, 2012 to 18 months in an intermediate punishment program that includes house arrest with electronic monitor-ing. Warman had implicated former Luzerne County deputy warden Sam Hyder, saying the deputy warden had received prescription drugs, but Hyder denied the accusations and was not charged.

Fierman, the last Luzerne County prison employee charged with drug offenses, is scheduled to go to trial in June 2012.


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