A former Nassau County jail nurse pleaded guilty Friday to promoting prison contraband, ending a case that ignited security questions and led the district attorney’s office to conclude the Sheriff’s Department and county executive’s staff mishandled an internal probe into razor and drug smuggling at the facility.
Chantiel Cox, 26, of Amityville, admitted by her misdemeanor plea to only knowingly smuggling cigarettes into the East Meadow jail, according to her attorney, John LoTurco.
Prosecutors alleged at the time of Cox’s February 2016 arrest that the former Armor Correctional Health Services nurse got paid to smuggle razor blades and synthetic marijuana, or K2, to jail inmates while doling out medication. The conspiracy also involved two other co-defendants, along with inmates who were Bloods gang members, according to authorities.
With the prosecution’s approval, Nassau County District Judge Joy Watson sentenced Cox on Friday to a fine and a conditional discharge — meaning she’ll face no consequences if she stays out of trouble with the law for a year.
LoTurco said after the Mineola court proceeding that the contraband Cox passed on was in a container one of her co-defendants sealed before she got it, and that she couldn’t say “with certainty” what was in it, but “thought it was only cigarettes.”
The Huntington attorney said his client only got involved because of coercion from a gangster inmate and a co-defendant after threats to her and her children.
“She’s just a young woman who was frightened, and she was coerced into doing this,” LoTurco said.
Cox hid her face and ignored questions leaving court. She had been facing up to 7 years in prison on the top charge against her after pleading not guilty at her 2016 arraignment to felony and misdemeanor contraband counts and a misdemeanor conspiracy count.
“We elected to resolve this matter with this fair plea disposition rather than litigate the matter at trial and risk a felony conviction with a potential jail sentence,” LoTurco also said. “Chantiel now looks forward to moving on with her life, supporting her family and being a productive member of society.”A spokesman for District Attorney Madeline Singas declined to comment Friday, as did an Armor spokeswoman.
Cox’s conviction follows the January sentencing of a Wyandanch woman who also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in the case. Sharonda Hall, 25, got a 3-year probation sentence after admitting passing K2 into the jail.
Last year, a Baldwin woman pleaded guilty to a felony in the same case. Amanda Minnieer, 29, admitted passing K2 and lighters into the jail and got 6 months in jail and 5 years of probation.
The contraband arrests followed a January 2016 inmate slashing that left one inmate needing more than 260 facial stitches, before a gang violence outbreak in the weeks after the bust that led to as many as five inmate slashings in a week.
The arrests also came at a time when Armor was under fire in connection with a series of inmate deaths.
Criticism over the jail’s handling of the contraband case and Sheriff Michael Sposato’s defense of Armor amid criticisms of its inmate care led Democrats in the county legislature to demand his resignation earlier this year.
Their demand followed a January report in Newsday that said Sposato’s administration at first didn’t seek Cox’s arrest after evidence of contraband smuggling emerged and instead tried to handle the matter quietly in-house with her firing.
Sposato kept his appointed position and has maintained that jail officials under his command did a prompt and successful investigation of the smuggling scheme before a collaboration with the district attorney’s office that led to the three arrests.
The district attorney’s office has said it only learned of the scheme involving the nurse after tips from “multiple unofficial sources” after jail officials and County Executive Edward Mangano’s staff conducted a probe for weeks without involving police or prosecutors. Singas’ office also found that the investigation’s initial mishandling didn’t rise to the level of criminal behavior.
In a statement Friday, Sposato expressed satisfaction with Cox’s guilty plea.
He said his investigators started the probe into the smuggling conspiracy, one he said was “aggressively pursued from day one through a variety of investigative techniques” before Cox was “immediately removed from the facility . . . once sufficient information was developed by our investigators.”