An internal Dep’t of Justice report alleges that the boss of the correction officers union at the Brooklyn federal lockup doled out favors to jailed mobsters for eight years. The report cites detailed statements from three fellow officers and 17 inmates, including members of the Colombo, Gambino and Luchese crime families, who say union boss Raymond L. Cotton smuggled in contraband like hero sandwiches, veal cutlets and radios, warned of prison searches and broke visiting rules in exchange for bribes.
Allegations against Cotton, a correctional counselor and president of Am. Fed’n of Gov’t Employees Local 2005, surfaced in 1997 after his arrest with 11 other guards in the “Operation Badfellas” probe by the DOJ’s Office of Inspector Gen. Nine were convicted on criminal charges. Two others were fired. Federal prosecutors dismissed the case against Cotton in June 1998 after a key mob informant and inmate was accused of drug deals at the jail.
In Aug. 2000, the IG’s Office completed its investigation of Cotton and referred the report to the Bureau of Prisons for administrative action. Newsday obtained a copy of the report through a Freedom of Information Act request. BOP declined to comment. He denied wrongdoing and said he faces no disciplinary charges. “All the charges were false. A lot of these inmates were just trying to make deals so they could get out of jail,” said Cotton, now reassigned to a different unit. “They had no evidence, no tapes, no records of money.”
The report details a broader series of allegations against Cotton than was disclosed in the criminal case, with some inmates coming forward as recently as July 1999. “According to these inmates, Cotton engaged in a continuing pattern of corruption,” which span from 1990-98, the report alleged.
“We had everything as if we were on the street; it was not like being in jail,” one inmate told investigators. “You could have everything you wanted on Cotton’s floor.” A member of the Colombo family now in the federal witness security program told investigators Cotton escorted mobsters between floors so they could meet with each other. He said there was so much food smuggled in, he gained 40 lbs.
A second inmate said Cotton let them use his phone to make long-distance calls at the Manhattan jail, hid contraband in his office from the mob and brought in sneakers for him in exchange for bribes. The inmate claimed another prisoner said of Cotton, “He’s bleeding me dry.” The inmate’s mother told investigators she passed cash to her son for Cotton and sent money orders in Cotton’s name. She also claimed she met with Cotton once outside the Manhattan jail and gave him a box to deliver to her son.
A third inmate cooperating with the government told investigators that after he was sent into isolation for fighting, Cotton brought chicken parmigiana sandwiches and cigarettes to his cell. He alleged Cotton helped smuggle in radios, headphones, jogging suits, sneakers and an Italian dinner cooked by another inmate’s mom. A fourth inmate, who worked as a jail orderly, told investigators that Cotton hid contraband in his office and warned inmates about searches. A correction officer reported that Cotton played handball with inmates on days off. On one occasion, after the guard ordered a search that turned up garlic, tomatoes, and other contraband, an angry Cotton demanded to know why the guard was “shaking up his unit,” the officer said. [Newsday (N.Y.) 4/10/01]