Two guards at a notorious New York jail appeared in court Thursday charged with conspiring to smuggle blades, synthetic marijuana and tobacco behind bars for inmates in exchange for thousands of dollars.
Prosecutors in the Bronx said a total of 17 suspects have been charged in the largest smuggling takedown at Rikers Island in more than a decade. The others include a jail cook and six inmates.
So far all have pleaded not guilty, said a spokeswoman for prosecutors.
The charges come after elected Democrats called for Rikers Island , one of the largest municipal jails in America, to be shut down over allegations of systemic violence. The Rikers complex houses thousands of inmates.
Bronx district attorney Darcel Clark said the contraband conspiracy "fed the climate of danger and fear that makes Rikers Island notorious for brutality, and they reveal the true scope of corruption."
The defendants face charges that include bribery, promoting prison contraband and attempted sale of controlled substances. The most serious charges each carry a maximum sentence of seven years.
Prosecutors named the purported ringleader as 31-year-old guard Kevin McKoy, who allegedly received $10,000 in exchange for smuggling scalpels, synthetic marijuana and opioid strips to inmates.
He is accused of wrapping the blades in duct tape to avoid metal detectors and of continuing to smuggle in weapons after a fellow officer was slashed in the face requiring 20 stitches.
McKoy, who went by nicknames "The Plug" or "Ticks-and-Fleas," collected contraband from inmates' friends and relatives, before smuggling it into work and endangering the safety of fellow officers, prosecutors said.
He was arrested last November with seven scalpels stuffed down his long johns, officials said. Nine other scalpels were found at his Brooklyn home, and he allegedly admitted they were destined for the jail.
Fellow officer Mohammed Sufian, 25, was arrested with tobacco stuffed into his socks, prosecutors said. He allegedly received $1,000 in bribes.
Last June, the city of New York and federal prosecutors promised sweeping reforms designed to end decades of violence.