UPDATE: Read the Correction Department’s response to this story here.
A top official in a city-funded drug treatment program at the Rikers Island jail complex has been charged with…wait for it…selling cocaine and heroin.
Until he was unceremoniously removed from his office earlier this month, Juan dela Rosa—a specialist on mentally ill, drug addicted inmates—worked for the mammoth Prison Health Services, a controversial company, which runs jail medical programs in many states and holds a big money contract with the city. He worked in a program known as MICA at Rikers.
On Oct. 4 at 208th Street and Union Turnpike, dela Rosa and an accomplice sold $100 worth of cocaine in two plastic bags, and the powerful pain reliever Percocet, to an undercover police officer, according to a criminal complaint. But police didn’t bust dela Rosa right away, perhaps, letting him operate some more while they observed his movements and contacts.
Authorities finally reeled in Dela Rosa on Jan. 6 at the mouth of the vast prison island in East Elmhurst, and found him holding more drugs: 105 packets of heroin, labeled “Black Gold,” in his front jacket pocket, plus two baggies of cocaine inside his rear back pocket.
He had six more packets of “Black Label” heroin in his wallet. Sources say investigators also found drugs in his office on Rikers, raising new questions about the island’s security procedures for employees.
Dela Rosa, of East Elmhurst, was removed from his office at the Anna M. Kross Center, where he had close contact with the most vulnerable inmates in the prison population. Every inmate in the unit had to undergo a urinalysis.
A person who answered Dela Rosa’s phone refused to speak with a reporter. A PHS official insisted she had to get Dela Rosa’s permission before discussing his arrest.
It’s unclear why the police did not immediately take him off the streets following the initial arrest, given his sensitive job. It’s possible they were watching him to see if any other jails officials were involved.
Dela Rosa’s arrests were greeted with the standard no-hear, no-see from the city Department of Health, Prison Health Services and the Department of Correction. Each agency ducked or referred questions about the case and the broader security issues that it raises. It seemed not to trouble anyone that someone with a security clearance in a sensitive job was able to slip drugs into Rikers with impunity.
None of the agencies would say how much dela Rosa made, what he did, or whether other people have been caught up in the investigation.
Correction sources say, shockingly, it is actually extremely easy for an employee to smuggle drugs and contraband onto the island and into the facilities themselves. There is no frisk of employees on their arrival, though bags and parcels are checked. Vehicles are search only on departure.
“It’s unfortunate, but if someone has those bad intentions, it could be done and quite easily,” a Correction source said.