NJ prison officer allegedly took bribes for espresso & cold cuts
NEWARK – A corrections officer is accused of accepting monthly bribe payments from an inmate in exchange for smuggling contraband into Northern State Prison including cash, jewelry, cologne, cold cuts and espresso.
Werner Gramajo, 45, of Newark, a senior correctional officer at the prison, has been charged with official misconduct, bribery, conspiracy and tampering with public records.
“A corrections officer who can be bought, who is willing to break the law and violate prison policy for a fee, poses a potential threat to fellow correctional officers and the individuals incarcerated in the facility they are sworn to serve,” said acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin.
“We will not allow such individuals to sabotage the public’s faith in the criminal justice system.”
The official misconduct, bribery and conspiracy charges are each second-degree crimes, potentially carrying a sentence of five to 10 years in prison.
The third-degree tampering with public records charge – which stems from a false statement in a report after the scheme was uncovered – could carry a sentence of three to five years in prison.
Contraband conspiracy detailed
Investigators say Gramajo, who is in his 10th year with the Department of Corrections, was supplying contraband on request to inmate Thomas De Vingo, 65, who had been convicted of robbing a gas station in Nutley in 2015.
De Vingo had been on track to be released from prison in November 2023. He is now also facing charges of bribery, official misconduct and conspiracy in the alleged scheme.
Officer was experiencing financial trouble
Gramajo’s base salary this year is $83,714, according to state payroll records.
Gramajo earned $88,661 last year, including overtime and retroactive pay. But that was down significantly from $127,896 in 2020, when overtime nearly doubled his take-home pay, and $99,999 in 2019.
According to prosecutors, detectives say De Vingo approached the corrections officer in early 2020 about the arrangement after hearing the officer was experiencing financial trouble.
Over the next year, Gramajo received up to $500 per month in payments arranged by De Vingo, in exchange for several deliveries to the inmate each month.
Investigators say how scheme unraveled
Authorities say the scheme was discovered after a note was found in a high-security, officer-controlled area where inmates are not allowed. That note was a request, including $40 in cash, asking that food be brought to “Tommy Two Times,” referring to De Vingo.
The Attorney General’s Office said it obtained communications between De Vingo and an unnamed civilian in which the inmate says Gramajo “gets paid monthly and well for his services,” that Gramajo should be told to “not forget the Italian espresso” and that “the old guy wants his things.”