- Associated Press - Thursday, February 4, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) - A sprawling investigation into contraband smuggling at the city’s largest jail complex that has resulted in more than two dozen arrests has landed a jail guard in handcuffs after he was caught trying to smuggle in synthetic marijuana hidden in his socks, officials said Thursday.

Mohammed Sufian was arrested Wednesday at the Anna M. Kross Center at the Rikers Island jail complex. Sufian, who had been working at the jail since October 2014, was stopped by a drug-sniffing dog at the front gate and was found with more than 60 grams of synthetic marijuana wrapped in electrical tape and hidden in his socks, officials with the city’s Department of Investigation said.

Since 2014, DOI investigators have arrested at least 25 officers and other correction department staff members as part of an investigation into violence and contraband smuggling in the jail system. The agency released a report last year after its probe found systemic problems with the correction department hiring system, including allowing an alarmingly high number of hires who had arrest records, gang ties or other red flags that are markers for corruption.

A 2014 probe found gaping security holes at Rikers allowed guards and other staffers to easily smuggle in contraband, including allowing guards to routinely put lunches on top of X-ray machines rather than through them and guards being regularly waved through security after setting off metal detectors.

Authorities allege Sufian had been paid $500 to take in the drugs and was promised more money upon delivery. After his arrest, investigators searched his Brooklyn home and found four more packages of synthetic marijuana, with about 126 grams, and a 32-gram package of tobacco they believe was going to be taken to the jail, authorities said.

Sufian’s union, the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, said he’s entitled to a vigorous defense.

“That being said, anyone found to be breaking the law should be prosecuted,” union president Norman Seabrook said. “We have zero tolerance for anyone who would potentially bring dangerous contraband into New York City’s jails.”

Sufian was awaiting arraignment on Thursday in the Bronx. He could not be reached for comment, and it was unclear whether he had an attorney who could comment on the allegations.

Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters said the arrest “demonstrates DOI’s continued focus to stem the flow of contraband smuggling within the city’s jails, a significant factor that feeds the violence and disorder on Rikers.”

Sufian was hired in 2014 after Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed reform-minded jails Commissioner Joseph Ponte. A spokesman for the correction department did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on Sufian’s arrest.

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Associated Press writer Jake Pearson contributed to this report.

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Follow Michael Balsamo on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeBalsamo1. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/michael-balsamo.

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