A corrections officer at an Otay Mesa state prison smuggled contraband to an inmate, including a bejeweled “grill” for the prisoner’s teeth, in exchange for thousands of dollars worth of bribes, according to a newly unsealed indictment.
While investigating the alleged bribery, federal agents learned that same inmate at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility also coordinated a fraud scheme targeting COVID-19 unemployment benefits, according to a second indictment. In that scheme, the inmate and six co-conspirators filed fraudulent unemployment claims totaling about $1.4 million and received more than $695,000 in cash payouts, according to prosecutors.
The corrections officer, 47-year-old San Diego resident Benito Jamar Hugie, was arrested earlier this month, pleaded not guilty to the bribery and bribery conspiracy charges he faces and was released on bail, according to his attorney.
Defense attorney Doug Brown said he couldn’t offer further comment because he had not yet seen the FBI’s case.
Officials from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation did not immediately respond to a request for comment and questions about Hugie’s employment status with the agency.
Public records from Transparent California show Hugie has worked for the state as a corrections officer since at least 2011 and earned more than $100,000 in pay in 2020, the year he allegedly accepted the bribes.
Hugie used “his position as a corrections officer to work for the inmates inside the facility rather than the public,” Stacey Moy, special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Diego-area field office, said in a statement.
Also named in the indictment was the inmate, 26-year-old Shawn Brown, and two of his brothers, both Fresno residents. According to prosecutors and court documents, the bribery scheme centered around a custom gold and diamond grill made by a Houston jeweler.
Prosecutors contend Hugie, whom the inmate and his brothers referred to in text messages as “Doofy,” smuggled the grill to Brown in early October 2020, according to the indictment. That allegedly followed months of communications between the men and several bribe payments from the brothers to Hugie totaling more than $5,000.
While the FBI was investigating the alleged bribery scheme, agents learned Brown, also known as “bsmash” and “highclassjefe,” was defrauding the California Employment Development Department with fake COVID-related unemployment claims, according to the second indictment. Five Fresno residents and another inmate from the Otay Mesa prison, Devante Jefferson, were also named in that indictment.
It alleges Brown and three others committed aggravated identify theft, and that all seven conspired to commit mail fraud.
Attorney information for Brown, Jefferson and the others named in the indictments was not available Monday evening.