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San Quentin correctional officer accused of smuggling phones to death row inmates

September 10, 2021

By Andrew Sheeler - Sacramento Bee

A correctional officer from San Quentin State Prison this week appeared in federal court to face charges that he smuggled cellphones into death row in exchange for money.

Keith Christopher, 37, of Pittsburg was charged in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California with conspiracy to commit honest services fraud using interstate wires.

Two others — Isaiah Wells of Tracy and Tanisa Smith-Symes of Las Vegas — also face that charge in connection with the case.

Christopher and Wells appeared in federal court in San Francisco on Wednesday and were released from custody until their next hearing on Sept. 17, accoridng to the Justice Department.

According to a criminal complaint, Smith-Symes, who had a relationship with an inmate on San Quentin State Prison’s death row, obtained contraband cellphones and provided them to Wells, who then gave them to Christopher to smuggle into the prison.

Christopher allegedly charged $500 for each phone he smuggled. Inside death row, the phones sold for up to $900 each, according to the complaint.

The complaint goes on to say that Christopher smuggled at least 25 phones into the prison.

The charge of fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, though that any sentence imposed would be subject to sentencing guidelines and federal statutes.

Christopher and Wells appeared before Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim on Wednesday and were released on bond until their next appearance on Sept. 17. Smith-Symes is scheduled to appear before a federal judge on Thursday.