Letters detail plans for state prison uprisings, murder

(Published in The Press of Atlantic City on Wednesday, June 21, 2006.)

Letters found in a convicted killer’s prison cell indicate inmates have guns and cell phones available to coordinate uprisings at four state prisons and the subsequent attempt on the life of Newark Mayor-elect Cory Booker.

The letters, found in the Rahway prison cell of an alleged Bloods gang leader, show inmates smuggled in 13 guns and several cell phones for the uprising in the medical unit of South Woods State Prison here and in three other prisons. One letter correctly lists numbers of officers and medical personnel in the unit, along with specific locations of offices, control panels for locks, closets and bathrooms.

One letter mentions plans to kill Booker, Newark’s reform-oriented mayor-elect who has been under round-the-clock police protection due to death threats, according to recent published reports.

“They also came to talk to me and Big Bra about the mayor!” reads the letter signed by “Big Homre 34 St Budd Long.” “They ask if I put a hit on Booker? Well, I found out Godson did that bit! So we had a meeting by phone. I told him breath[e] easy, let’s get it off in the four prisons first then get [the] dude. We gotta do this soon because if not, they’ll [expletive] around and get wind of this or find a gun and all hell will break loose!”

Officers recently found three letters, obtained Tuesday by The Press of Atlantic City, in the East Jersey State Prison cell of Lester Alford detailing the plot. The Department of Corrections responded Monday by increasing security at all four prisons as officers searched for guns and cell phones.

The four prisons targeted for uprisings are South Woods, East Jersey, Northern State Prison in Newark and New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, according to the letters and corrections officers.

“This is the first time that anyone can remember that four jails were on lockdown at the same time,” said Joe Malagrino, president of Police Benevolent Association Local 105, the largest corrections officers union.

DOC spokeswoman Deirdre Fedkenheuer said she was unaware of the letters’ contents. Several officers confirmed the letters were found in Alford’s cell. A Booker spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.

The undated letters are a mix of posturing, strategizing and candid conversation between friends. The handwriting appears similar in each, though they’re signed with three different nicknames: “The Last Don,” “Budd Long” and a third one that is unclear, but may be “Big Bra.”

The first letter, signed by “The Last Don,” is startlingly specific in its plans for South Woods before going into details on the other three. It opens by saying each of the four uprisings needs to begin simultaneously, otherwise the prisons will be locked down. Inmates have 13 guns hidden at the four prisons, according to one of the letters.

“The hardest one is South Woods because it’s so [expletive] big, but dig, they have to go thru medal [sic] detectors so this is it,” the first letter says.

The letter then details movement of guns within the prison and plans to take over the prison’s I-building and Emergency Care Unit, then take several hostages.

Inmates have four cell phones available at the prison, the letter states. Cell phones are illegal in prisons.

The writer then numbers the officers upstairs and downstairs in the ECU – three each – as well as estimating 12 to 16 doctors and nurses present. It even explains how the building can be secured because everything works through a control panel, and it numbers the closets, bathrooms, offices and lab areas there.

The Bloods are never mentioned by name, but several officers indicated Alford, 33, is among the top five members of the gang’s regional hierarchy.

The third letter is addressed to Alford by his nickname “Fruit.”

The DOC heightened security after leaders of the officers unions met with DOC Chief of Staff Charlie Ellis on Sunday night to request lockdowns and searches at the four prisons. Gov. Jon S. Corzine spoke by telephone Tuesday with Tom Moran, head of the union representing corrections sergeants, to check on officers’ morale, according to Malagrino.

“We understand this is part of the business,” said Tom Moran, head of the union representing corrections sergeants. “These things are going to happen in a prison. I’m just glad we’re working together with the department (leadership) to get this done.”