While doling out medication, a nurse at Nassau’s jail also allegedly smuggled razors and synthetic marijuana to inmates in a contraband conspiracy that led to three arrests, the county’s top prosecutor said Friday.
Nurse Chantiel Cox, 25, of Amityville was arraigned Friday following her arrest Thursday on felony and misdemeanor charges of promoting prison contraband and a misdemeanor conspiracy count.
Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said after the arraignment that Cox had access to many parts of the jail because she was then working for the facility’s inmate medical care provider, Armor Correctional Health Services.
“That gave her the opportunity and it gave her the ability to interact with inmates. So through the regular course of her duties of dispensing medicine . . . she was able to also dispense contraband,” Singas said.
Cox’s arraignment attorney, Tara Mayerhofer, said in Hempstead district court that the defendant was the mother of a 5-year-old and 10-month-old.
She said Cox was active in church, and had attended high school in Amityville before becoming a nurse.
A judge set Cox’s bond at $30,000 before her family rushed from the Hempstead courthouse and refused to comment.
In an emailed statement Friday, one of Cox’s attorneys, John LoTurco, said she vigorously denies the allegations.
“We assert that Ms. Cox is being used as a scapegoat for a much larger institutional problem at the Nassau County jail,” he said, adding that the facts would show she hadn’t committed any crimes.
The attorney confirmed that Cox had posted her bond and was released Friday.
Newsday broke news Friday of the alleged contraband conspiracy, which officials said was also tied to inmates in the Bloods gang.
The arrests follow what sources said were recent slashings at the jail, including a Jan. 6 incident that left an inmate needing more than 260 stitches to his face. Authorities haven’t tied the contraband case to the recent violence, but said they were continuing to investigate whether there were any connections.
One of Cox’s alleged co-conspirators, whom authorities identified as Amanda Minnieer, 27, of Baldwin, was arraigned Friday on two felony counts of promoting prison contraband and a misdemeanor conspiracy charge. A judge also set her bond at $30,000, which she had not posted Friday night.
The other defendant in the case, Sharonda Hall, 24, of Wyandanch, was arraigned Thursday on the same charges, and was later held in lieu of $10,000 bond.
The district attorney’s office said Friday that during a probe into Cox, investigators allegedly found inmates had been in touch with Hall and Minnieer about smuggling drugs and weapons into the jail.
Hall and Minnieer would pick up cash, usually $50 or $100, at a money wiring store and use it to buy contraband, prosecutors said. They then turned the items over to Cox, who was paid to sneak the goods into the jail, according to authorities.
“They have a relationship with the nurse, as well as a relationship with other inmates in the jail and together they worked to bring in this contraband,” Singas said.
The district attorney also said Friday that the alleged scheme “raises concerns about the oversight and security at the jail,” along with questions about Armor’s hiring practices.
But Sheriff Michael Sposato defended the jail’s security in a statement later Friday, claiming it was “internal jail security procedures and practices that ultimately led to the discovery of this conspiracy and its participants.”
Authorities said Cox, a licensed practical nurse, was fired from Armor in December after it was found that she had brought contraband into the jail.
The alleged scheme took place from October through the end of the year, according to authorities.
News of the nurse’s arrest prompted Brian Sullivan, head of the union for Nassau correction officers, on Thursday to echo recent calls from inmate advocates and the Nassau legislature’s minority leader for the county to dump Armor.
Armor didn’t respond to a request for comment Friday.
The company’s quality of patient care has come under fire in the past several months, including from the state Commission of Correction following investigations into two 2014 Nassau inmate deaths.
Armor’s practices also are the target of an investigation by the state attorney general’s office.
In addition, the Miami-based vendor is facing litigation from relatives of four inmates who died while in the Nassau jail since the company won its first county contract in 2011.