- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A former caseworker at Nevada’s maximum-security prison in Ely was in federal custody and out of a job on Wednesday following her arrest on drug conspiracy and distribution charges and her admission that she smuggled methamphetamine into prison, officials said.

Christina Tripp, 46, was arrested Sunday with a man the FBI said accompanied her on a 250-mile drive from her home in Ely to a casino parking lot in Henderson where they’d arranged to meet someone to pay $1,500 for a half-pound of methamphetamine, according to a criminal complaint.

The document said police also found a .45-caliber handgun, a “stack” of cash and a container of marijuana inside Tripp’s brown Dodge truck.

Tripp and the man, Victor Pere-Quiroz, made initial appearances Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas on conspiracy to possess methamphetamine and narcotics communications charges.

Each pleaded not guilty and was ordered held pending appearances Oct. 13 before a federal magistrate in Reno.

Lauren Gorman, a federal public defender representing Tripp, declined to comment on the case.

Pere-Quiroz’s lawyer, Bret Whipple, said his client was taking the allegations seriously and maintained his innocence. Whipple said Pere-Quiroz rented a room at Tripp’s home in Ely.

A criminal complaint filed Wednesday alleges that Tripp admitted to the FBI that she smuggled methamphetamine into a Nevada prison facility on at least one occasion.

Corrections spokesman Brian Connett said Wednesday that Tripp had been fired after working for the department since 2003 at Ely State Prison and the lower-security Ely Conservation Camp.

The case comes amid turmoil at the top at the Nevada Department of Corrections and several other allegations of smuggling.

Gov. Brian Sandoval dismissed former prisons chief Greg Cox last month when he failed to deliver a promised report about shootings and policies inside Nevada’s 22 prison facilities, including the slaying of inmate Carlos Manuel Perez Jr. by guards last Nov. 12 at High Desert State Prison.

A lawsuit in that case alleges that guards let two handcuffed inmates fight in a “gladiator-like scenario” before a guard trainee opened fire with a shotgun, killing Perez and wounding inmate Andrew Jay Arevalo.

Two inmates were hospitalized three weeks ago and part of the prison was locked down after a fight in the prison yard that officials said continued despite gunfire from guards.

Two other inmates and a guard pleaded guilty in a scheme to smuggle takeout chicken, vodka and cellphones to one of the prisoners - a self-described pimp serving time on a rape and robbery conviction and awaiting a death penalty trial in a fiery Las Vegas Strip crash that killed three people.

Another former guard at the facility was sentenced in August to three years’ probation for his conviction on a felony marijuana prison smuggling charge.

High Desert, outside Las Vegas, is the largest state prison. It houses about a quarter of Nevada’s 12,700 inmates.

Ely State Prison can house up to 1,183 inmates.

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