Federal authorities said that a corrections officer and his girlfriend were caught bringing cigarettes and cellphones into the Essex County Jail from a source who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent.
U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Philip Sellinger said after their arrests on March 14 that Efrin Wade, 34, and Yairisa Lizardo, 29, both of Jersey City, took $14,000 for their illegal activities and were probably counting on another $30,000.
Wade had been a corrections officer at the Essex County Correctional Facility (ECCF) in Newark since February 2020. He started talking to “a person he thought was trying to smuggle contraband into ECCF to sell to other inmates” in January.
“Wade didn’t know that this person was actually an FBI agent working undercover,” the U.S. attorney said.
Early in February, Wade sent Lizardo to meet the undercover agent in a parking lot in Bayonne. There, she “accepted $10,000 in cash and a large amount of tobacco for Wade to smuggle into ECCF,” Sellinger said.
“Over the next few weeks, Wade put this tobacco in secret places inside ECCF, thinking that prisoners would find it,” he said. “However, law enforcement found these things after Wade told the undercover agent where they were hidden.”
A few days later, Wade met the agent in Jersey City, where he got a cell phone “hidden with tobacco,” according to Sellinger.
The U.S. attorney said that investigators once again found the package where Wade said he had hidden it.
He said that Wade then gave the agent $4,000 in the same parking lot.
Wade also “told the undercover agent how he planned to sneak in 15 more illegal cell phones, which the agent would give him,” Sellinger said.
The U.S. attorney said that Wade thought he would be paid at least $30,000 for sneaking these cell phones into ECCF at the end of March. Wade thought that the cell phones would be sold to prisoners for around $5,000 each.
Sellinger said that when agents took him into custody, they found that he was carrying illegal cigarettes, tobacco packs, and cigars.
Wade and Lizardo were both charged with extortion under the color of official right, which is a federal crime. A U.S. magistrate judge set each person’s bond at $100,000.
Sellinger said that the investigation that led to the arrests on Tuesday was done by FBI agents and investigators from the Essex County Department of Corrections Internal Affairs Unit.
The case is being handled by the government by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark J. McCarren of the Special Prosecutions Division in Newark.