Four prison guards from Philadelphia are facing up to 40 years behind bars on charges that they smuggled drugs and cell phones into Graterford prison, the state's largest maximum-security prison.

The guards are alleged to have used their knowledge of jailhouse procedures to sell heroin, cocaine, marijuana and cell phones. They were paid in cash or drugs by the inmates' associates on the outside, according to federal authorities.

"You would think that someone that works in a prison would avoid any type of behavior that might potentially cause him or her to end up on the inside of a prison cell," said Jody Weis, special agent in charge of the FBI's Philadelphia office. "The defendants named in today's indictments have missed that logic."

While working as a guard at the 3,000-inmate facility in Montgomery County, Sheri Allen allegedly smuggled heroin into Graterford by secreting it inside a body cavity, the indictment states.

Allen, 38, has been charged with extortion and attempted drug distribution, which carry a combined maximum penalty of 40 years imprisonment and a $1.25 million fine. Tony Strong, 46, Allen Littles, 37, and Ronald "Smitty" Smith, 51, face similar charges. All four guards are Philadelphia residents.

"There's no ambiguity in the policies and procedures of the prison system. Every guard knows the rules," U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan said yesterday. "The indictments today allege that for a very few dollars and some drugs, these guards violated the rules and the trust placed in them by both prison officials and the taxpayers of Pennsylvania."

Also charged was Howard Grant, 37, of Philadelphia. He allegedly supplied drugs to a Graterford inmate as part of convicted murderer's failed escape attempt. Grant was not a guard.

"At times during this case, the investigators found it difficult to differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys," Weis said, adding that the four accused guards "tarnished the badge and stained the uniform" they wore to work every day.

State Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard joined federal authorities in pledging to investigate and prosecute corruption within the state prison system. He said most of its 15,000 employees are "hardworking, dedicated, professional individuals."

Graterford was the site of a three-day raid in 1995 by 650 correctional officers and state troopers.

The $738,000-raid resulted in the confiscation of homemade weapons and drugs and an overhaul of the prison's record-keeping. Several Graterford officials were forced to retire or were reassigned and the most troublesome inmates were transferred. *