From Rimutaka Prison guard to inmate

By Jimmy Ellingham

Former prison officer Alofainu'u Tuisamoa in the dock during his sentencing. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Former prison officer Alofainu'u Tuisamoa in the dock during his sentencing. Photo / Mark Mitchell

A former Corrections officer has gone from prison guard to inmate after accepting bribes to smuggle items behind bars.

Alofainu'u Tuisamoa, 42, who used to work at Rimutaka Prison in the Hutt Valley, was today sent to jail for two years and two months.

Judge Denys Barry said only prison time was appropriate for the "serious breach of trust" in offending motivated by financial gain.

"I accept the submission that once you started it you became a pawn to the baleful influence and pressure of those you supplied," the judge told the Wellington District Court.

"Nevertheless, setting off on this road to perdition meant that was inevitable. There may have been pressure but the simple response to that is to bring it to the notice of the prison authorities."

Tuisamoa had previously admitted a rare charge of corruption by a public official and one of supplying tobacco into Rimutaka.

In 2014, he received 33 payments and made $37,200 through delivering the tobacco -- a banned substance in prisons -- a cellphone, food and other items to four inmates.

The phone was allegedly used to organise methamphetamine deals, but Tuisamoa didn't know that.

His offending was uncovered by an Organised and Financial Crime Agency investigation into a prisoner. Tuisamoa told a probation officer he spent the money on bills and on his family.

Judge Barry said Tuisamoa became ensnared in a "corrupt money-making venture" and while he did not know what the phone would be used for, the potential was obvious.

The judge gave him credit for his guilty plea, remorse and previous good character.

Prosecutor Seamus Woods said the "bottom line" for the Crown was a jail sentence, because of the seriousness of the offending. He referred to a letter from Corrections' chief executive Ray Smith that spoke of the "gross and serious" breach of trust.

"The public needs to have confidence in the department's ability to keep communities safe. Mr Tuisamoa's offending erodes that confidence in a very material way."

His actions jeopardised the safety of colleagues and prisoners, Mr Smith wrote. He said contraband can create a sub-culture of superiority inside with differences between the haves and have-nots.

Defence lawyer Elizabeth Hall argued for a home detention sentence.

After working for Corrections for a decade he resigned and was suffering depression and anxiety.

"His family disintegrated. He lost his home, his wife ... He's living in a spare room at his daughter's address."

Tuisamoa, now unemployed, has five children. His oldest son was born when he was 18, soon after he left school, which he only attended to play rugby, Ms Hall said.

Away from court, Corrections' lower north regional commissioner Paul Tomlinson said the department welcomed the sentence as a "strong signal about the importance places on the integrity of public servants".

"The overwhelming majority of our staff fulfil their duties with integrity and commitment in what is often a pressured and challenging environment. Our staff will be bitterly disappointed that one of their colleagues has let them and the organisation down," Mr Tomlinson said.

Since 2007, the department had supported police prosecutions of six staff for corruption.

Overall, Corrections has 8000 employees and Mr Tomlinson said new pre-employment screening measures had been introduced.

Figures released to NZME under the Official Information Act show 29 people were convicted of corruption offences between 2005 and 2015, of which 16 were jailed.

- NZ Herald

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