Former corrections officer Mark Barber at the Nassau County Court...

Former corrections officer Mark Barber at the Nassau County Court in Mineola. (July 23, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

A former Nassau County correction officer, who was supposed to monitor inmate grievances, was sentenced Wednesday to 5 1/3 years in prison for extorting sex from female inmates.

"The fact is that when the prison doors shut with your victims inside, you saw that as your opportunity to subject them to your sexual exploits," Judge Norman St. George said in Nassau County Court as he sentenced Mark Barber, 50, of Levittown.

"You used the Nassau County Correctional Center as your perverse sexual playground," the judge continued. "Now the prison doors will shut with you inside, not as an officer but as a convicted sex offender."

Two of the victims addressed the court before sentencing. They said they were drug addicts who had feared Barber.

"I'm so ashamed I allowed myself to be put at the mercy of this weak man who sits here today," one of the women said. She said she feared Barber would withhold the methadone she needed to ease her withdrawal from heroin addiction, but added that she never sunk to his level. "Unlike you, I never intentionally hurt anyone," she said.

The other woman said she believed Barber's threat that he would "pop my gate open at any time throughout the night and make my life a living hell."

The judge praised both women for having the courage to report the crimes and then testify about them.

As St. George spoke, Barber shook his head, prompting the judge to say: "You can shake your head all you want. It's fine for you to be in denial."

Defense attorney Edward Galison, who had questioned the truthfulness of the witnesses during the trial, said the sentence was excessive and he would appeal.

Prosecutor Bernadette Ford said Barber had betrayed the public trust and should be jailed.

Evidence at Barber's trial this summer showed that he targeted prisoners who had a history of drug abuse, prostitution or mental illness while he was serving as the inmate grievance officer at the county jail in East Meadow. He was fired in 2009, after more than 20 years, after an investigation into a complaint from an inmate.

Testimony showed that Barber used his position to allow select inmates access to private phone calls and provide them with cigarettes and other favors.

The jury convicted him on 30 counts -- three felonies and 27 misdemeanors -- that included criminal sex acts, forcible touching and official misconduct. He was acquitted on the most serious charge, third-degree rape.

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