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Guards at New York City jail accused of drug trafficking

By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Three guards at New York City's Rikers Island Correctional Facility have been indicted on charges of smuggling drugs into the city's largest jail complex and selling contraband to inmates, authorities said on Tuesday.

The charges stem from a investigation involving wire taps and undercover agents posing as friends and family members of inmates who met up with the Department of Correction officers, according to the city Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor.

The prosecutor's office alleged that the officers accepted contraband pills and payment from the undercover agents.

Two officers face charges of drug possession and trafficking narcotics, including cocaine and the powerful painkiller oxycodone, into Rikers Island, along with other contraband, the prosecutor said.

A third officer, who resigned in April, was charged with many of the same counts. Also indicted was an inmate and his girlfriend.

The officers abused their positions for monetary gain, Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan said in a statement.

"By smuggling drugs into a correctional institution, they undermined the security of everyone at Rikers Island – inmates, officers and staff," she said.

Four other correction staff face possible demotion or termination for misconduct, authorities said.

The charges are the latest in a string of problems at Rikers, which houses some 12,000 prisoners.

Earlier this month, New York City agreed to pay $2.75 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of an inmate who claimed guards beat him to death.

In March, an officer was charged with depriving a mentally ill inmate of medical aid after the inmate swallowed a corrosive disinfectant. The inmate eventually died.

Another inmate who suffered from schizophrenia died in an overheated cell this year. His family has filed a $25 million lawsuit against the city.

Last month, authorities raided the jail, searching guards, inmates and cells.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Joseph Ponte as correction commissioner in response to the problems at city jails. Ponte has instituted new security policies designed to prevent violence and ordered a review of training and safety protocols.

(Editing by David Gregorio)

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