A nurse who worked at the Nassau County jail is facing felony charges following her arrest Thursday after investigators uncovered a conspiracy in which she used her job with Armor Correctional Health Services to smuggle drugs and weapons to inmates, sources said.
Nurse Chantiel Cox, 25, is among three suspects who were charged this week in a scheme involving inmates who are Bloods gang members, according to officials with knowledge of the case.
The criminal charges come as Armor, the jail’s inmate medical care provider, has faced a barrage of criticism in the past several months. The county legislature’s minority leader and inmate advocates have lobbied for County Executive Edward Mangano to suspend Armor’s contract.
Those calls to break ties followed the state Commission of Correction’s investigation into two 2014 inmate deaths and the agency’s finding last September that Armor has a pattern of providing negligent care.
The alleged drug and weapon conspiracy that led to the new arrests involved sneaking razors and K2, or synthetic marijuana, into the jail in exchange for money, according to sources and court records.
The arrests follow what sources said have been recent slashings at the East Meadow facility, including a Jan. 6 incident that left an inmate needing more than 260 stitches for a facial wound after what was believed to be a gang-related attack.
It’s not clear if there’s any direct link between the recent violence and the contraband case, sources said.
Court files show authorities believe the alleged scheme was going on from around October through the end of 2015.
Cox, who stopped working for Armor in late December, tried to hide her face and ignored a reporter’s request for comment Thursday as investigators led her into the Nassau district attorney’s office in handcuffs.
Armor didn’t comment on the nurse’s arrest Thursday except to say that she worked for the company from last July 7 to Dec. 23.
A spokesman for Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas confirmed Cox was in custody, but declined Thursday to comment on the case.
Sheriff Michael Sposato said in a prepared statement Thursday that based on information in late November, his department “launched an aggressive investigation into contraband smuggling” involving inmates.
“Investigators identified a facility nurse, two visitors, and three inmates – all of whom are identified Bloods gang members – as suspects in a smuggling conspiracy,” Sposato added.
The allegations also sparked outrage Thursday from Brian Sullivan, the union president for Nassau correction officers.
He questioned how Armor screened their employees before hiring them and said the alleged contraband scheme put correction officers at great risk for physical harm. The union leader also called for the county to dump Armor.
“Armor’s already been hammered for shoddy medical treatment and now their staff is allegedly bringing in weapons to the facility?” Sullivan said. “It’s absurd and we’re not going to stand for it and this company has to go.”
Cox is scheduled to be arraigned in court Friday along with another female suspect.
An alleged co-conspirator had her first court appearance in Hempstead district court Thursday and was then held in custody in lieu of $10,000 bond, records show. Court records and sources identified that person as Sharonda Hall, 24, of Wyandanch. She is facing two felony charges and a misdemeanor conspiracy charge and was represented by an attorney from Legal Aid, which doesn’t comment on cases.
Sources also told Newsday that Cox went to work for Armor at the jail despite having spent two days in the Nassau jail as an inmate in 2013 after a disorderly conduct arrest. However, records show Cox has no record of criminal convictions.
Cox was questioned by investigators while working at the jail during a shift in late December, and then fired and barred from returning to the jail, sources said. She’s now facing multiple felony and misdemeanor charges, according to officials familiar with the case.
Sources said Cox claimed during questioning that she was bullied into the alleged scheme because of threats to her and her family’s safety. Records show she is registered as a licensed practical nurse, and first earned her certification in 2012.
Cox has described herself as a single mother of two young children who was struggling as their sole provider while working for Armor and not collecting any public benefits, court records show.
Separately from the contraband case, the State Attorney General’s Office has been investigating the practices of Armor and has issued subpoenas to the company.
The company also is facing litigation from four local families whose relatives have died at the Nassau jail since the Miami-based vendor won its first two-year, $11 million-a-year county contract in 2011.
Last fall, the Commission of Correction — which oversees jails — also determined that the 2014 deaths of inmate John Gleeson, 40, of Oceanside, and inmate Kevin Brown, 47, of Far Rockaway, may have been prevented with proper care.
But Armor has staunchly and repeatedly defended a record of what the company says is quality care.
Last month, Newsday reported authorities had received information alleging the jail medical record of inmate Antonio Marinaccio Jr., a 53-year-old Levittown man who died in custody last year, was tampered with in an attempted cover-up of health care decisions in his case.
Armor called the allegations “another example of media manipulation by those with their own agenda such as plaintiff attorneys, disgruntled former employees, or organized labor unions.”
A spokesman for Sposato previously has said Armor’s contract has enhanced jail security and public safety by increasing the inmate health services provided on site.
Mangano’s administration said last year after the state commission’s findings that Armor’s contract couldn’t be canceled “without subjecting taxpayers to significant liability as the allegations have not been substantiated to date.”
But the county attorney also said in November that Nassau officials had begun drafting a request for proposals from vendors for jail medical services.
Elements of the jail contraband case
- Arrests of three suspects, including a nurse who worked at jail
- Allegations that synthetic marijuana and razor blades were smuggled into jail
- Inmates with gang ties were involved.
- Money payments made in exchange for smuggled weapons and drugs