Prison Chaplain Accused Of Taking Bribes To Smuggle Drugs To Inmates

By Keri Blakinger 11/19/18

Officials say they found a cache of contraband along with more than $5,000 in proceeds in the chaplain's office.

prison chaplain being bribed by inmates to smuggle drugs

A prison chaplain was arrested for allegedly taking bribes to smuggle drugs and cell phones to inmates in a federal lock-up in New England, authorities said Friday. 

Joseph Buenviaje was working at the Federal Correctional Institution in Berlin, New Hampshire, when officials say he started sneaking in contraband—including phones, tobacco, pot and Suboxone—to prisoners at the medium-security facility. 

It’s not clear how many inmates were involved or whether any other workers or outside co-conspirators participated in the alleged scheme, and authorities did not outline in court documents when the smuggling is believed to have begun. But, during a search of the 53-year-old’s FCI Berlin office, officials said they found a cache of contraband along with more than $5,000 in proceeds.

“Public employees are expected to act with integrity,” U.S. Attorney Scott Murray said in a statement. “We will always be alert to instances of criminal misconduct by federal employees. In order to ensure that the public has confidence in its public servants, federal employees who violate the public trust by breaking the law will be investigated and prosecuted.” 

The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General took the lead in investigating the case, with help from the prison’s special investigative supervisor. 

Earlier this year, a former prison employee at the same facility was sentenced to 15 months behind bars after she pleaded guilty to similar charges when she was caught accepting bribes to smuggle in phones, drugs and tobacco. 

Feds were tipped off to the illicit operation and started monitoring Latoya Sebree’s communications to learn that she agreed to drop off a cell phone and tobacco in exchange for $2,000. The goods were shipped to the 37-year-old’s post office box, where she picked them up and drove them to her home. 

When investigators showed up there with a warrant, Sebree handed over the $2,000 and cell phone. A search turned up Suboxone strips, a heat sealer and tobacco, according to a federal press release.

Under questioning, Sebree admitted to sneaking in drugs, phones and other banned items over a several-week period. After pleading guilty in fall 2017, Sebree was sentenced in January. When she gets out of prison, she’ll be on supervised release for a year. 

“The public deserves honest service from its civil servants,” acting U.S. Attorney John Farley said at the time. “This officer betrayed the public trust and undermined the safety and integrity of a federal prison facility by taking bribes to smuggle contraband into a prison. This type of conduct cannot be tolerated.”

FCI Berlin holds just over 1,000 inmates between the main facility and the adjacent 88-man minimum-security camp.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.