A former guard at New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex was sentenced to nearly 3-1/2 years in prison on Tuesday after being convicted of smuggling marijuana and other contraband into two maximum security lockups in exchange for bribes.
Austin Romain, 33, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet in Manhattan in one of a series of criminal cases brought against guards accused of contributing to violence and disorder at Rikers Island.
“Rikers is a significant problem, and has been,” Sweet said. “And you, sir, are part of that problem.”
Before being sentenced to 41 months in prison, Romain told Sweet that “this won’t happen again, and the only thing I look forward to is rebuilding my life and putting this case behind me.”
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called Romain’s sentencing “the latest step in our efforts to root out unlawful conduct at Rikers Island, by individuals and by the institution as a whole.”
Rikers Island, one of the largest U.S. jail complexes with around 10,000 prisoners daily, has found itself the focus of intense scrutiny over issues of safety and security.
The New York City Department of Investigation, has since 2014 arrested 23 city correction officers and staff members, many from Rikers, for an array of charges including assaulting inmates and smuggling contraband.
The department, which investigated Romain, said it anticipates further arrests as it intensifies its investigation into smuggling and violence at Rikers.
A spokeswoman for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the Department of Correction, which runs the complex, is in the “midst of a top-to-bottom reform that seeks to strengthen all aspects of our security.”
A federal judge next week is expected weigh giving final approval to a settlement announced by the U.S. Justice Department with the city aimed at reducing violence at Rikers by among other things appointing a federal monitor.
Romain and another Rikers guard, Khalif Phillips, were first charged in 2013 after a two-year investigation into an illicit contraband distribution ring at the jail.
Authorities said Romain, a Brooklyn resident, smuggled marijuana, tobacco and other contraband into the prison for inmates in 2012 and 2013 in exchange for more than $11,000 in bribes.
A federal jury in December found Romain guilty on charges including fraud, bribery, and conspiring to distribute marijuana.
His conviction came a month after Phillips, 33, was sentenced to 36 months in prison for narcotics-related offenses. (Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; editing by Noeleen Walder and Christian Plumb)