Former San Quentin prison guard pleads guilty to smuggling cell phones, bribery

Gov. Newsom plans to shut San Quentin's death row and move condemned inmates to other prisons. he has previously placed a moratorium on executions. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

A former San Quentin prison guard and three others pleaded guilty on Monday to charges that they took bribes and smuggled cell phones into the prison and used an inmate on Death Row as their go-between, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced. 

Former correctional officer Keith Christopher, 38, of Pittsburg, Calif.; and his accomplices, Isaiah Wells, 33, of Tracy, Calif.; Tanisa Smith-Symes, 46, of Las Vegas, Nevada; and Dustin Albini, 38, of Pittsburg, Calif. pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court on Friday. 

Another co-defendant Tanisa Smith-Symes, pleaded guilty earlier to the same charges.  The pleas were entered before United States District Judge Susan Illston.

Christopher used to work in San Quentin's East Block, known as Death Row, where cell phones are considered contraband. 

Christopher admitted in his plea agreement that as a correctional officer in 2019 he worked with Wells, Albini, Smith-Symes, and a Death Row inmate, where he would smuggle in the cell phones, deliver them to "Inmate 1," who then sold them to others in the prison, according to court documents. 

Christopher’s plea agreement describes a time in December 2019, when Inmate 1 arranged for 10 cell phones to be shipped to the Nevada residence of an associate, Smith-Symes.  

Christopher told Smith-Symes to send the cell phones to Albini’s home in Pittsburg.

Christopher then collected the 10 cell phones from Albini and smuggled them into the prison for Inmate 1, who was told that Christopher’s price for smuggling the phones was $5,000. 

At Christopher’s direction, Smith-Symes sent some of the $5,000 to Albini and some to Wells.  Christopher admitted that he collected the bribe money from both Wells and Albini, court documents show.

In May 2020,  Christopher admitted that he agreed to smuggle 15 more cell phones into San Quentin for Inmate 1 and requested a bribe of $7,500.  

Inmate 1 again arranged to have the phones shipped to Smith-Symes, prosecutors said.

Christopher directed Smith-Symes to send those cell phones to the Tracy address for Wells, which she did.  

Smith-Symes also forwarded a text message from Inmate 1 to Christopher requesting that he reduce his smuggling fee from $7,500 to $6,500.  

Christopher agreed and directed Smith-Symes to send the $6,500 payment to Wells.  Christopher retrieved the 15 cell phones and approximately $6,000 in cash from Wells, leaving Wells the balance as his fee, according to the plea agreement.  

For her part, Smith-Symes described in her plea agreement that in 2018 she began a romantic relationship with inmate 1.

 Starting in 2019, Inmate 1 began asking for favors, eventually asking her to help smuggle contraband cellphones into the prison.

She agreed and followed Inmate 1’s direction to work with a corrections officer nicknamed "Dude," who turned out to be Christopher. 

Each defendant pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.  Each defendant also pleaded guilty to two counts of bribery of a public officia, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.  

Christopher and Wells are scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 13, 2023.