Corruption inside Union County Jail

March 27, 2008 12:35:33 PM PDT
A Union County Jail corrections officer, a maintenance worker and four inmates have been named in a 19-count indictment that alleged corruption inside the correctional facility. Officer Stephen Matthews, 48, faces three counts of bribery, three counts of official misconduct and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and/or official misconduct.

Also indicted was 37-year-old Joseph Pecoraro, a senior maintenance worker at the jail. Pecoraro is facing two counts of bribery, two counts of official misconduct, two counts of conspiracy to commit bribery and/or official misconduct, as well as one count of providing an electronic device.

Both men were suspended without pay from their jobs in August when the charges first surfaced.

They are accused of smuggling cigarettes and a cell phone into the jail in return for cash.

Four inmates were also named in the indictment, as was the girlfriend of one of the inmates. They are:

  • Jeremy Watson, 22, of Plainfield, who was convicted of murder after a trial last month
  • Abdul Griggs, 36, of Piscataway, and Shariff Raymond, 27, of Elizabeth, both awaiting trial for murder in separate cases
  • Jadon Russell, 29, of Linden, who was recently convicted of drug and weapons charges
  • Kelly Spicer (Watson's girlfriend), 36, of Elizabeth.

    According to Union County Assistant Prosecutor William Kolano, Matthews and Pecoraro are accused of smuggling tobacco products and a cell phone into the jail over a five-month period.

    Inside the jail, authorities say Watson was running a lucrative underground sales network with the assistance of Griggs, Russell and Raymond.

    "The contraband consisted of Marlboro cigarettes and Bugler loose tobacco," Kolano said. "Watson and his cohorts were selling the smuggled goods to other inmates for a large profit. Spicer acted as the outside link between the inmates and the public employees by providing the money to pay off Matthews and Pecoraro for their part in the operation."

    On three different occasions, Spicer allegedly left the money in Matthews late-model Lexus SUV, which was parked in the Union County parking lot.

    "The motivation for the charges listed in the indictment was simple greed," Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow said. "It is another troubling chapter in the history of the Union County Jail as it existed prior to the changes that were put into effect as a result of the escapes in December, 2007."

    The Union County Jail was the same facility from which prisoners James Blunt and Jose Espinosa escaped last year. Both were later captured. A corrections officer committed suicide after the escapees left him a note thanking him.

    At the time they escaped, Blunt was facing robbery and weapons charges stemming from the shooting of a convenience store manager; Espinosa had already pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

    The men escaped on the evening of December 14 by squeezing through a hole they had dug through a cinder block cell wall. They had covered the hole with a pinup photo, a ploy similar to one depicted in "The Shawshank Redemption."

    The pair exited onto a third-floor rooftop, then leaped over a 25-foot-high fence topped with razor wire.

    The inmates had piled sheets under their blankets to make it appear they were sleeping, and guards didn't raise an alarm until 5 p.m. on December 15.

    Blunt left behind a taunting note thanking one guard for his "help." That guard, Rudolph Zurick, 40, committed suicide two weeks after the escape, although investigators have said there is no evidence any guard knowingly assisted the prisoners.

    An investigation into the escape revealed that the cells of the two inmates had not been searched for more than two months prior to the breakout.

    Two corrections officers and three sergeants face administrative charges stemming from the escape, and all could loose their jobs.

    Espinosa, identified by authorities as an illegal immigrant from Mexico, was found on Jan. 8 in a basement apartment near the jail. Blunt was arrested the next day at a cheap hotel in Mexico City.