Guard charged with smuggling

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

A Curry County Adult Detention Center officer was arrested Monday, charged with sneaking marijuana and tobacco into the jail, according to the Curry County Sheriff’s Office.

Raul Lopez, 23, told investigators he was having financial problems when an inmate offered to pay him to smuggle in the contraband, according to a criminal complaint filed in Curry County Magistrate court.

Lopez is charged with three counts of bringing contraband into a place of imprisonment and three counts of distribution of a controlled substance. All the charges are felonies.

Because of his position as a former guard, Lopez was transported to the Parmer County Detention Center, where he is being held on a $30,000 bond, according to jail officials.

Lopez told investigators he recalled bringing loose tobacco into the jail approximately six times and marijuana approximately three times, records show.

Five Curry County Adult Detention Center officers have been arrested in a little more than a year on charges ranging from contraband to assault on inmates. The jail houses an average of just over 200 inmates.

Sheriff’s deputies began their investigation April 13 when they received a tip from an informant who reported Lopez was smuggling contraband into the jail, records show.

Sheriff Matt Murray said the investigation is continuing to identify the inmate or inmates who received the contraband items. Additional charges and arrests are anticipated, he said.

Lopez, whose employment has been terminated since his arrest, was hired in October and was still on probationary status, according to deputy chief warden Audrey Barriga.

Barriga said staff had noticed a rise in contraband recently.

She believes incidents exposing criminal activity and arrests at the jail are indications of efforts to expel problems from the facility.

“I would hope that it reflects positively,” Barriga said. “We’re diligently seeking the problem areas and trying to rectify the situation.

“(Contraband is in jails) everywhere — it happens everyday. It’s going to be a continual battle but I hope to get it in the end.”

Leslie Johnson took over as warden of the jail in March 2006 following the resignation of the former administrator.