Valdosta Daily Times

March 10, 2014

NYC guard-inmate sex scandal triggers jail review


Bloomberg News

NEW YORK — Jail guard Nancy Gonzalez gained notoriety by conceiving a baby behind bars with a cop killer. But her story of sexual misconduct at a federal lockup in Brooklyn doesn’t end there.

Gonzalez claims she had sex with at least eight co-workers, including two supervisors, while on duty at the Metropolitan Detention Center in less than two years. She also admitted having sex with a second inmate.

The allegations of a broader, behind-the-scenes sex scandal that created potential security risks are contained in a document Gonzalez’s attorneys prepared before she was sentenced last month to a year in prison. She pleaded guilty to having illegal sexual contact with inmate Ronell Wilson, who had been convicted in 2006 in the point-blank shooting of two undercover police officers.

The lawyers say Gonzalez told federal authorities about the sexual liaisons early last year. But while they aggressively prosecuted her, it remains unclear if anyone else has been disciplined.

Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, confirmed that prosecutors had referred the matter to the Justice Department’s inspector general. A spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Chris Burke, also said that there was an ongoing investigation by the inspector general and that the bureau was awaiting results, but he wouldn’t discuss the specific allegations. The inspector general’s office has declined to comment.

Gonzalez’s allegations, though perhaps shocking to the outside world, don’t come as a surprise to those who have studied prison life, where a silent culture of sex  — consensual or not — isn’t uncommon,  said Brenda V. Smith, a corrections expert and law professor at American University.

The fact that Gonzalez got away with having an affair with Wilson for several weeks suggests she was operating in an environment where “everything and everyone was fair game,” Smith said. “I’m sure there are correctional officers who were not so surprised by her conduct. She just happened to be the one who got caught.”

A letter written by MDC warden Frank Strada to the judge in the Gonzalez case made no mention of possible supervisory lapses at his jail, which houses about 2,400 men and women awaiting the outcome of federal charges against them. Instead, he suggested Gonzalez was the sole culprit and deserved the maximum sentence.

Gonzalez, 30, “knowingly placed her own personal desires above her professional duties,” Strada wrote in what he labeled a “victim impact” letter. “Ms. Gonzalez’s betrayal has left many of her former co-workers feeling confused, angry and less safe in their daily job.”

Attempts to reach Strada for comment by phone and email Friday were unsuccessful. A lawyer for Gonzalez, Anthony Ricco, declined to characterize his client’s claims beyond what was in the defense memo.

The memo claimed it would have been difficult to miss that Gonzalez was a deeply troubled woman when she went to work at the MDC in 2009. After her arrest, a psychiatric exam found she was suffering from an untreated personality disorder fueled by “deep-seated emotional shame and guilt” over severe sexual abuse as a child, lawyers said.

Gonzalez’s “inability to reconcile her sexual dysfunction was known to her supervisors at the Bureau of Prisons, two of whom took full advantage of her condition and engaged in sexual activity with her,” the defense memo says without detailing the time and circumstances of the encounters or identifying the supervisors. “Given her high level of sexual promiscuity with employees at the MDC ... it was only a matter of time before Nancy Gonzalez would be involved sexually with a detainee at the MDC.”

When Gonzalez first crossed that line, it apparently wasn’t with Wilson. The defense memo references her having “sexual contact” with another inmate, a convicted drug gang member, in 2011.

Despite her reckless behavior, Gonzalez was given the 4 p.m.-to-midnight shift in K-81, a unit housing mentally disturbed and other “vulnerable” inmates. Authorities say Wilson, who was awaiting resentencing in his death penalty case, was placed there to segregate him from reputed street gang members.

In March 2012, Gonzalez and Wilson began having sex in a vacant activity room next to his cell after she did her rounds. Perhaps worse than that, authorities said, the guard let him bully other inmates and created a risk that he could steal her keys and incite violence.

Gonzalez had “a misguided emotional belief that being impregnated by Ronell Wilson was providing him with a lasting purpose to his otherwise tragic and dysfunctional life,” the defense memo says.

Other inmates tried to expose the affair by writing an anonymous letter to a jail captain and putting it in a locked complaint box. By the next day, an enraged Wilson had the letter in hand and was threatening payback if he found out who wrote it, prosecutors said in court papers.

Gonzalez later told authorities she had intercepted the letter with the help of another guard. That officer, she also told them, was one of her sex partners.

At a sentencing last year for Wilson after the affair was exposed, a judge questioned how he was able to “treat the MDC as his own private fiefdom” and called for an inquiry.

“Not only did Mr. Wilson’s behavior in prison illuminate his continuing lack of remorse and disregard for authority, but it also shed light on the apparent ineptitude of the Bureau of Prisons,” the judge said.

Wilson was sent back to death row in Terre Haute, Ind. Gonzalez is to report to prison in April. Their son, named Justus, is in the custody of her relatives.