Officials: Chaplain tried to get razors into NYC jail

Imam Zul-Qarnain Abdu-Shahid, a one-time state prison inmate, is accused of trying to smuggle the items into a Manhattan lockup.

February 4, 2010 7:18:16 AM PST
The attorney of a jails chaplain charged with trying to smuggle three razor blades and a pair of scissors into a lockup said Wednesday there's "absolutely no reason to believe" his client knew the items were in his bag. Imam Zul-Qarnain Abdu-Shahid, 58, of Staten Island, was arrested Wednesday at the Manhattan Detention Complex on several charges, including four counts of promoting prison contraband in the first degree, a felony. Hours later, he made his initial court appearance on the charges but did not enter a plea. He was being held on $50,000 bond or $30,000 cash.

James M. McQueeney, his defense attorney, said there was no evidence to believe that his client knew that the items were in his bag when he went to work earlier that day.

"He has the lifestyle of a very stable person," said McQueeney, adding that his client had a wife and three children.

The Department of Investigation said in a statement that Abdu-Shahid was arrested while entering the jailhouse, known as the Tombs, when a duffel bag he had brought with him triggered an alarm from the X-ray machine. An officer discovered the contraband inside the bag and Abdu-Shahid was taken into custody wearing long, blue robes and a Muslim skullcap, the DOI said.

But McQueeney said his client had been allowed to start his shift and only later did officials raise questions about the items found in Abdu-Shahid's bag. "His explanation that he didn't know that they were there was accepted," McQueeney said.

Abdu-Shahid served 14 years in state prison, from 1979 to 1993, after being convicted along with three other men in the fatal shooting of a man during a robbery, said Erik Kriss, a spokesman with the state Department of Correctional Services. His alias was Paul Pitts, Kriss said.

He was arrested on Dec. 9, 1976, and convicted of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery, DOCS said. He was on parole until 2001.

Abdu-Shahid's attorney said his client had "has completely reformed his life."

City Department of Correction spokesman Stephen Morello said Abdu-Shahid had worked at the Tombs since 2007.

Commissioner Dora Schriro has directed a thorough review of the circumstances surrounding his hiring, Morello said.

"I commend our officers whose diligence prevented contraband from entering the jail," Schriro said in a statement. "The employee who was intercepted was suspended immediately. Additional steps up to and including dismissal will be pursued consistent with the findings of the Department of Investigation."

In 2009, a different chaplain assigned to the same jail resigned after being linked to a lavish, catered bar mitzvah that was organized for the son of an inmate at the lockup. Three other jail officials also were disciplined, including the warden and the head of the city's jail chaplains, over their roles in allowing the bash.

Associated Press Writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.