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Halawa guard faces drug smuggling charges

By Star Advertiser staff

LAST UPDATED: 1:17 a.m. HST, Jan 14, 2014

Halawa Correctional Facility guard James "Kimo" Sanders III pleaded not guilty Monday to charges related to trafficking methamphetamine in the prison and bribery.

He was arrested Sunday at the correctional facility and spent a night in the Federal Detention Center.

Sanders, 31, who has worked as an adult corrections officer at Halawa for about a year, was released Monday on a $50,000 bond and placed in the custody of his grandmother. Sanders lives in Kailua. His trial was scheduled for March 18.

During Sander's arraignment, U.S. District Magistrate Judge Barry M. Kurren ordered him to turn over his passport and wear a GPS device, as a condition of his release.

Kurren barred Sanders from working at any prison pending his trial. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Nammar said Sanders had expected to be assigned to desk duty at the Halawa facility.

Sanders pleaded not guilty to four charges: two counts of distributing methamphetamine; conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine; and bribery.

The indictment by a federal grand jury arose out of an FBI investigation, with help from the state Department of Public Safety, the Honolulu Police Department and the Internal Revenue Service, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The person or persons who received the methamphetamine was not named in the indictment. FBI spokesman Tom Simon declined to comment on whether any charges against other persons were pending.

Sanders is accused of distributing five grams or more of methamphetamine on Nov. 15, and distributing 50 grams or more of methamphetamine one week later, on Nov. 22.

If convicted either of conspiracy or the distribution of 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, he faces up to life in prison, with a mandatory minimum term of 10 years in prison and a fine up to $10 million, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The department said if convicted of distributing five grams or more of methamphetamine, Sanders may face up to 40 years in prison, a mandatory minimum of five years of incarceration, and a fine of up to $5 million.

Public Safety Director Ted Sakai, who administers the state's prison system, said his agency is working with county and federal officials to weed out "corrupt employees in our prisons."

In 2004, four former prison guards on Maui pleaded guilty to charges involving methamphetamines.

"This kind of crime seriously undermines our ability to keep our prisons and ... the public safe."

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