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Nassau guard charged with extorting sex from inmates

Mark Barber, a Nassau County Correction Officer, leaves

Mark Barber, a Nassau County Correction Officer, leaves the Nassau DA's office after he was arrest for having sex with inmates. (December 30, 2009) Credit: Photo by Photo by Howard Schnapp

A guard at the Nassau County jail who once headed the correction officers' union has been accused of extorting sexual favors from women inmates, plying them with contraband like cigarettes while threatening them if they didn't acquiesce, prosecutors said Wednesday.

The correction officer, Mark Barber of 22 Piper Lane in Levittown, 47, who was an inmate grievance officer for female inmates, pleaded not guilty to a 58-count criminal complaint. He targeted prostitutes, the mentally ill, and drug abusers, in all six women with whom he maintained "inappropriate relationships" between August 2007 and March 2009, said Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice.

>>VIDEO: Click here to watch Rice give more in-depth details inside this case

In some cases, Barber began extorting sex from women whose complaints he was investigating as a grievance officer.

"He would befriend them, get overly friendly with them, remind them of the position of power that he was in, and how he could make their life very difficult if they did not do what he wanted them to do," Rice said. "And in turn, he was very good to them. He gave them cigarettes, he gave them stuff from the commissary. He allowed them to make phone calls at times that other inmates were not allowed to make phone calls."

The relationships would continue when some of the inmates were released and rearrested for other matters, Rice said. "They'd come back, and the relationship would continue," she said.

Rice said he would have sex with the inmates "in various places throughout the facility," but she wasn't more specific.

Charges against Barber include rape, official misconduct, sexual abuse, forcible touching, promoting prison contraband. He was released on $25,000 bond.

Barber, the father of two, denies the allegations, his defense attorney, Frederick James Annibale Jr., told reporters.

"We deny all of the charges outright," Annibale said of his client, who's worked for the sheriff's department since 1987.

The allegations are based on investigators' interviews of the women but also "corroborative evidence," from people who saw what happened, love cards he sent with "intimate thoughts and statements" and other sources Rice wouldn't reveal.

"It is not just the statements of the women," Rice said.

Sheriff Mike Sposato, who is in charge of the Carman Avenue facility in East Meadow, said Barber has been suspended from his job without pay.

"This type of conduct will not be tolerated by the sheriff's department," Sposato said. "This type of conduct is not indicative of the character of the men and women in this department who perform their duties with the utmost professionalism, day in and day out."

Barber was a spokesman for the union in the 1990s during a high-profile investigation that led to the trial and conviction of several officers for the fatal beating of an inmate, Thomas Pizzuto. He was not charged in that case.

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