A former corrections officer at the state prison in Graterford, who smuggled what she thought was heroin into the facility in a condom placed inside her body, was sentenced yesterday to 18 months behind bars.
U.S. District Judge James T. Giles ordered Sheri Allen, 39, of the Parkside section of Philadelphia, to self-surrender to the Bureau of Prisons in 60 days and fined her $2,000.
The judge rejected defense arguments that Allen be given a break to care for her family.
Giles said Allen's crimes "involved not only drugs, but posed a risk to the safety of other persons who work in the prison system," adding, "the need for punishment is obvious."
Allen, who pleaded guilty in February to extortion and attempted distribution of a controlled substance, is the second of five defendants to be sentenced in connection with a scheme by four Graterford corrections officers and a fifth individual to smuggle drugs and cell phones to inmates in exchange for cash or drugs.
Former Graterford corrections officer Tony Strong was sentenced to 18 months in April.
Three other defendants in the case have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
Defense attorney Steven Laver said Allen learned to become a welder after her indictment and has a job. He asked that she be sentenced to a community corrections center so that she could continue to work and provide for her young children.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lou Lappen said that Allen "allowed herself to be corrupted" and that it was important that she be incarcerated so that other corrections officers contemplating similar conduct get the "right message."
Before sentencing, Allen apologized to the court.
"Why did you do it?" Giles asked. "It was a need for money," Allen replied softly.
Court filings said the FBI learned in 2004 that Allen was distributing illegal drugs inside Graterford.
Authorities arranged for a cooperating witness - another Graterford corrections officer - to wear a wire and record conversations with Allen.
During one conversation, the cooperator, identified only as A.L. in court documents, offered Allen $350 to deliver three racks of heroin to him to give to inmates.
On May 27, 2004, Allen and the cooperating witness met in the parking lot of a department store on City Avenue.
During the meeting, the cooperator handed Allen $350 cash and said he would give her the heroin the next day.
Allen said she smuggled heroin into the prison by wrapping it in a condom and putting it inside her vagina.
The next morning, the cooperator met Allen near her home and gave her three racks of sham heroin to deliver to him inside Graterford later that day.
The two drove together to work, and Allen agreed to put the fake heroin in an envelope and give it to the cooperator near the front-gate vending-machine area of the prison.
That exchange, as well as the earlier cash payment and transfer of the fake heroin, was captured on audio and video.
Later, the cooperator gave Allen a ride home. She told him she was nervous, but admitted she regularly smuggled drugs into Graterford for inmates who paid her for the contraband. *