By Casey J. Bastian
On March 18, 2022, a federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) guard was indicted in federal court in New York City on charges he smuggled a loaded gun into the now-shuttered Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Manhattan. The guard, Greg McKinzie, 35, is the fourth MCC employee charged so far with introduction and distribution of contraband in the prison, where billionaire Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide in August 2019 while awaiting trial on charges of sex-trafficking underage girls. Eight current and former prisoners are also charged in the scheme.
The loaded .22 caliber weapon was recovered in March 2020 from a cell that had just been occupied by a prisoner who had communicated with his wife using a “burner” cellphone that investigators traced to the guard. The prison was placed on lockdown for a week during the investigation, which eventually led to the indictments of the other BOP employees and prisoners. McKenzie denied any knowledge of the gun when he was interviewed by the FBI, earning him an additional charge of obstruction of justice.
That interview occurred on November 4, 2021, the same day three other MCC employees were indicted, along with eight current and former prisoners connected to the city’s most feared gangs, on charges they conspired to smuggle contraband, including drugs, alcohol and cellphones, into the prison.
Guards Perry Joyner and Mario Feliciano, both 30, were arrested on those charges, along with a unit secretary, Sharon Griffith-McKnight, 35. She and Joyner were also charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to investigators about their involvement in the scheme, which reportedly persisted from October 2019 to January 2021.
During that time Feliciano is alleged to have received around $500 in bribes and Joyner more than $42,000 via electronic payments to unidentified associates. U.S. Attorney Damien Williams remarked that the alleged criminal conduct of the BOP employees “undermined the institution they swore to serve by conspiring with the very inmates they are charged to protect.”
Joyner is also accused of threatening a detainee to prevent him from cooperating with investigators.
In addition, Griffith-McKnight is accused of attempting to influence a federal sentencing proceeding by falsely reporting that prisoner Anthony “Harv” Ellison was a model inmate at the same time she was smuggling contraband to him. Ellison is the most high-profile of the alleged prison conspirators, accused of kidnapping and robbing gang member and informant Tekashi69.
The indictment says they conspired to introduce “marijuana, K2, oxycodone, alprazolam, buprenorphine and naloxone; cell phones; alcohol; cigarettes; and other contraband,” in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1791(a) and (b)(2).
Along with Ellison, 34, the current and former BOP prisoners and detainees also indicted were Donnell “Don P” Murray, 42, Markeen “Kingo” Jordan, 28, Tyrell “Rell” Sumpter, 27, Kevin “Sama” Crosby, 25, David “Santana” Valerio, 34, Virgilio “Jairo Taveras” Acevedo de los Santos, 44, and Starlin “Chino” Nunez, 45.
Individual gang affiliations were not named in the indictment, but it links the group of defendants with “one of the most violent and fastest-growing factions of the Bloods’ street and prison gang.” Most of the prisoners still in BOP custody were transferred to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn when MCC was closed in late 2021. BOP cited needed repairs at the time, but it is unclear whether it intends to reopen the prison.
The FBI agent in charge of the investigation, Ryan T. Geach, said that when McKenzie put “a loaded firearm in the hands of an inmate,” he had endangered “not just the prison, but the entire community.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll said the BOP employees “acted like nothing more than the criminals in their charge and assisted incarcerated offenders in committing more crimes.” See: U.S.A. v. McKenzie, USDC (S.D.N.Y.), Case No. 22-cr-00166; and U.S.A. v. Joyner, USDC (S.D.N.Y.), Case No. 21-cr-00673.
Additional sources: Rolling Stone, U.S. News
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Related legal cases
U.S.A. v. McKenzie
|Cite||USDC (S.D.N.Y.), Case No. 22-cr-00166|
U.S.A. v. Joyner
|Cite||USDC (S.D.N.Y.), Case No. 21-cr-00673|