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San Quentin Guard, 2 Others Accused in Death Row Contraband Cellphone Scheme

SAN QUENTIN (CBS SF) -- A San Quentin State Prison guard and two other suspects are being charged with attempting to smuggle cellphones into the prison's Death Row, according to Department of Justice officials.

A press release issued Wednesday by the Department of Justice detailed the scheme. According to authorities, 37-year-old Pittsburg Keith Christopher -- who works as a corrections officer at San Quentin -- and 32-year-old Tracy resident Isaiah Wells appeared in federal court Wednesday to face the charge of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud using interstate wires.

According to acting United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair, a third co-defendant, 45-year-old Las Vegas resident Tanisa Smith-Symes was arrested Wednesday in Las Vegas and is scheduled to appear in federal court there Thursday.

According to the complaint filed by authorities, the trio worked together to smuggle cellphones into San Quentin State Prison's East Block, where condemned inmates are housed. According to the press release, cellphones are deemed contraband by state law and inmates are prohibited from possessing them due to safety and security risks they present for prison employees and other inmates. possession by inmates.

The complaint alleges that Smith-Symes worked with a Death Row inmate she had a relationship with in order to obtain the contraband phones and ship them to Wells, who then provided the phones to Christopher. The corrections officer then smuggled the cellphones into the prison.

Using this method, the complaint alleges that the three conspirators successfully smuggled at least 25 phones into the prison. The inmate collaborating with Smith-Symes then sold the phones inside the prison for up to $900 each.

Smith-Symes provided bribery payments to Christopher through Wells and others whom Christopher had appointed to receive the money. The complaint further alleges that Christopher charged $500 as payment for each phone he smuggled into the prison.

The complaint filed against Christopher, Smith-Symes, and Wells charges each defendant with one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud using interstate wires. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Any sentence following conviction, however, is imposed by a court only after the court's consideration of the United States Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, according to the Justice Department press release.

Christopher and Wells appeared on the charges before United States Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim on Wednesday in San Francisco. The two men were released on bond and are scheduled for their next federal court appearance on September 17.

Assistant US Attorney Frank Riebli is prosecuting the case, with the assistance of Kay Konopaske. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the FBI and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's Office of Internal Affairs.

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