Nassau correction officer Harris Ferro (left) leaves the courtroom Friday...

Nassau correction officer Harris Ferro (left) leaves the courtroom Friday with his attorney, Frederick Annibale Jr., after pleading not guilty. Credit: Newsday/Bridget Murphy

A Nassau County jail correction officer is facing felony charges of bribe-receiving and promoting prison contraband after authorities said he took money from a third party to smuggle cigarettes and lighters to an inmate who also allegedly paid him for the contraband.

Harris Ferro, 35, pleaded not guilty Friday during a Nassau County Court arraignment on a 22-count indictment that also includes misdemeanor offenses of conspiracy, official misconduct and more contraband-related charges.

Prosecutor Michael Davidman told acting State Supreme Court Justice Francis Ricigliano that Ferro took money on five occasions from an inmate earlier this year in exchange for the contraband. The judge released the defendant on his own recognizance and ordered him to return to court in September.

The officer, a seven-year correction veteran, ignored a request for comment while leaving with his attorney and a union official. He is facing up to 7 years in prison if convicted of the top count against him.

Prosecutors have alleged a third party transferred money electronically to Ferro five times between January and February. Once the officer got that money, he smuggled cigarettes into the jail and sold them to an inmate for $100, according to authorities.

Ferro's indictment also alleges he hid the cigarettes in rolls of toilet paper before handing them over inside the East Meadow correctional facility. On two occasions, Ferro also brought the inmate a disposable lighter, prosecutors said Friday.

Ferro’s attorney, Frederick Annibale Jr., declined to comment after court Friday.

Nassau acting District Attorney Joyce Smith released a statement saying her office is committed to investigating and prosecuting contraband smuggling.

"Officers who accept bribes and compromise the integrity of their position for personal financial gain threaten the safety of their fellow officers and undermine the county's correction system," her statement added.

Ferro has been suspended without pay, Nassau Sheriff James Dzurenda said in a statement Friday. "The Sheriff's Department continues to cooperate with the investigation, which remains open and ongoing," he added.

The sheriff wouldn't comment further, including about whether the jail is doing any related internal investigation.

A Newsday analysis published in January showed inmates at Nassau’s jail have tapped into illicit supplies of narcotics and other drug contraband more than 200 times in recent years.

State records showed jail officials seized drugs or drug paraphernalia — which includes cigarettes and lighters — 237 times in a 45-month period from 2016 through the summer of 2019. Those seizures included marijuana, prescription pills, heroin and other banned substances, Newsday previously reported.

At least one inmate has died in recent years as a result of contraband smuggling, records show.

The family of Kevin Rollins, a West Babylon man who died of a fentanyl overdose in jail custody in 2018, is pursuing litigation against the county. Their court papers claim the 28-year-old's death was wrongful and followed an ongoing contraband smuggling problem that Nassau officials haven't properly addressed. County Executive Laura Curran's administration, which includes Dzurenda, previously declined to comment on the claim while citing the ongoing litigation.

The New York State Commission of Correction found in a January report that Nassau jail officials failed to do enough to purge contraband from inmate housing before Rollins' fatal overdose.

Dzurenda said in a statement in January that Nassau officials "strongly disagree" with those state findings, and that jail officials are constantly on the alert to prevent contraband smuggling, including by using specially trained canines and various search procedures.

Ferro's arrest follows the recent arraignment of a former Nassau County Juvenile Detention Center employee after authorities alleged she smuggled an ice cream container with a cellphone inside it to a teenage girl who's accused of taking part in two MS-13 gang slayings. She has pleaded not guilty.

The officer's indictment also comes after the 2017 guilty plea of a Nassau jail nurse who admitted to a misdemeanor charge of promoting prison contraband.

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