Correctional officer pleads guilty to drug smuggling

NEWARK, NJ — Attorney Gen. Gurbir Grewal announced that a suspended senior correctional police officer at Northern State Prison in Newark pleaded guilty Oct. 10 to smuggling fentanyl and marijuana to an inmate in the prison in exchange for money.

Roberto Reyes-Jackson, 30, of Irvington, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit official misconduct before Superior Court Judge Verna G. Leath in Essex County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that he be sentenced to four years in state prison. He must forfeit his job and will be permanently barred from public employment. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 7.

Between September and December 2016, Reyes-Jackson smuggled multiple single-dose wax folds of a powder compound laced with fentanyl to inmate Aaron Copeland. He also smuggled a small amount of marijuana to Copeland. The smuggling came to light in December 2016 when prison staff discovered a bag of marijuana in Copeland’s cell along with two wax folds of fentanyl, which was initially suspected to be heroin. A full search of the cell revealed additional marijuana and fentanyl. The state’s investigation revealed that Reyes-Jackson accepted hundreds of dollars in bribes from Copeland’s girlfriend, Tyeesha Powell, to smuggle drugs into the prison. Copeland, in turn, distributed the drugs to other inmates, who paid him by having friends or relatives outside the prison wire money to Powell. 

“Reyes-Jackson put lives at risk by smuggling this very dangerous opioid into Northern State Prison,” Grewal said. “Fentanyl is so potent that minute amounts can result in overdose and death. This guilty plea ensures that Reyes-Jackson will face justice for betraying his duty and callously disregarding the safety and welfare of his fellow officers as well as inmates in the prison.”

“We have an uncompromising commitment to ensuring safety in our facilities and a zero-tolerance policy for anyone who violates that safety,” said New Jersey Department of Corrections acting Commissioner Marcus O. Hicks. “The overwhelming majority of the New Jersey Department of Corrections staff operate with integrity. Those who do not must be held accountable for their actions.”

Copeland, 31, of Newark, pleaded guilty previously to a charge of distribution of fentanyl and faces a recommended sentence of three years in prison, including one year of parole ineligibility, to run consecutive to the sentence he is currently serving. Powell, 34, of Pleasantville, pleaded guilty previously to distribution of fentanyl and faces a recommended sentence of probation. They are awaiting sentencing.