Former San Quentin guard pleads guilty to smuggling cell phones to Death Row inmates

A former San Quentin prison guard and three associates have pleaded guilty to conspiring to smuggle cell phones to a Death Row inmate in exchange for bribes to the guard.

Keith Christopher, 38, of Pittsburg, the former guard, pleaded guilty Friday along with Isaiah Wells, 33, of Tracy, and Dustin Albini, 38, of Pittsburg. They admitted felony charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and two counts of bribery, payments allegedly arranged by the condemned prisoner.

A fourth defendant, Tamisa Smith-Symes, 46, of Las Vegas, pleaded guilty to the same charges earlier. Federal prosecutors said she admitted in her plea agreement that she had a romantic relationship with the condemned prisoner who received the phones.

California, like most states, prohibits prisoners from possessing mobile phones. Officials say the ban promotes prison security, but it also prevents inmates from using the devices to contact family and friends and requires them instead to use prison phone systems, which charge high prices.

Prosecutors said Christopher, while working at San Quentin, delivered 10 cell phones in December 2019 and another 15 in May 2020 to the unnamed prisoner, who sold them to other inmates.

Smith-Symes obtained the phones in Nevada and sent them to Wells and Albini, who relayed them to Christopher along with $11,500 in bribes, prosecutors said. They said the guard returned some of the money to his associates as fees for their part in the scheme, prosecutors said. A federal grand jury indictment in the case said the condemned prisoner “coordinated the payment of bribes to Christopher,” but did not go into detail on the inmate’s role in the payments.

The charges are punishable by 20 years or more in prison, but the plea agreements, which have not been made public, presumably recommend lesser sentences. US District Judge Susan Illston of Oakland is scheduled to sentence Christopher and Wells in January and hold hearings for Albini and Smith-Symes next September.

Albini’s lawyer, Robert Waggener, said the hearing would consider alternatives to punishment for his client, who has no criminal record. Wells’ attorney, Albert Boro, declined to comment. The other defense lawyers could not be reached for comment.

Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @BobEgelko

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.