Former San Quentin prison guard sentenced to 20 months

A former San Quentin State Prison guard has been sentenced to 20 months in prison for his role in a conspiracy to smuggle contraband into San Quentin.

U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Robert K. Tripp said Keith Christopher's sentence was handed down by U.S. Senior District Judge Susan Ilston.

Christopher, 38, of Pittsburg, pleaded guilty to crimes related to the conspiracy on Sept. 16, 2022.  

Christopher was employed as a correctional officer at San Quentin and, as described in the indictment, worked in the prison's East Block, known as Death Row.  

He admitted in his plea agreement that he accepted payments as bribes in exchange for smuggling at least 25 contraband cell phones into the prison. Cell phones are deemed contraband for prisoners in all parts of the prison as they create safety and security risks for prison employees, other inmates, and the public at large when used by inmates to direct criminal activity outside the prison. The California Code of Regulations accordingly prohibits prisoners from possessing cell phones. 

Christopher admitted in his plea agreement that he delivered cell phones and accessories, such as chargers, to a condemned inmate who then sold many of the phones to other inmates.  

Christopher acknowledged that as early as 2019, he orchestrated a conspiracy involving an inmate; co-conspirators Isaiah Wells, 32, of Tracy; Tanisa Smith-Symes, 46, of Las Vegas; and Dustin Albini, 37, of Pittsburg; and others.  

Christopher's plea agreement included descriptions of two instances in which he arranged to receive bribes in exchange for smuggling cell phones into the prison.  

In the first instance, the prison inmate working with Christopher arranged for 10 cell phones to be shipped to the Nevada residence of an associate.  That associate was Smith-Symes.  According to Christopher, in December 2019, the inmate arranged for a package containing 10 cell phones to be delivered to Smith-Symes' residence in Nevada. 

Christopher acknowledged that he directed Smith-Symes to send the phones to Albini who delivered the phones to Christopher.  

Christopher further admitted that he sent a text message to Smith-Symes establishing that he would smuggle the cell phones into the prison for $5,000 and that the money should be sent using Venmo and Walmart money transfers--some of the money through Albini and some through Wells.  

The second incident described in Christopher's plea agreement involves an agreement in May of 2020, in which Christopher arranged to smuggle an additional 15 cell phones into SQP for a payment of $7,500.  

The cell phones again were delivered first to Smith-Symes, but this time were routed through Wells who then delivered them to Christopher.  

Christopher agreed with the inmate to reduce his fee for this second smuggling transaction and, ultimately, Christopher delivered the phones to the inmate for a $6,500, a small portion of which went to Wells in exchange for his participation in the conspiracy.