CONCORD — A prison chaplain accused of smuggling and selling phones and drugs to federal inmates was sentenced this week to more than three years in federal prison, federal officials announced Thursday.
The chaplain, Joseph Buenviaje, 53, of Berlin, was indicted in November for “bribery of a public official” and “providing or possessing contraband in prison,” according to U.S. District Court of New Hampshire records. Prosecutors said he sold marijuana, Suboxone and tobacco to inmates in the men’s federal prison in Berlin for about $12,000 during 2018, when he was owed another $3,000 to $5,000.
Buenviaje was sentenced to serve 40 months, U.S. Atty. Scott Murray said in a statement.
According to court documents and statements made in court, Buenviaje began working as a chaplain at the Federal Correctional Institution in Berlin in 2015.
From April of 2018 until he was caught in November of 2018, Buenviaje smuggled drugs including Suboxone, synthetic cannabinoids and marijuana, cellular telephones, tobacco, and other contraband into the prison in exchange for bribe payments.
When interviewed by investigators in November of 2018, Buenviaje admitted that he had been smuggling drugs and other contraband into the prison once or twice per week.
In exchange, Buenviaje received over $52,000 in bribe payments.
Buenviaje received the contraband and some of the bribe payments by mail addressed to his ministry. Buenviaje received Suboxone — an opioid ordinarily prescribed to treat drug addiction — in its original packaging. Upon receipt, Buenviaje repackaged the drug in cellophane for distribution in the prison.
Buenviaje also received notebooks with drug-soaked pages that he smuggled into the prison. After smuggling items he received into the prison, Buenviaje placed the contraband in a cabinet in the prison chapel where inmates would later retrieve the items.
In November 2018, on the day of his arrest, investigators found 111 Suboxone strips, some of which were in Buenviaje’s car and some of which were in Buenviaje’s chaplain office repackaged for distribution. Investigators also located multiple notebooks that Buenviaje had hidden in a cabinet in his office for an inmate. Some pages in the notebooks had been soaked with illegal synthetic cannabinoids, specifically FUB-AMB and 5F-ADB, drugs known to cause serious side effects, including death.
Buenviaje previously pleaded guilty on April 30, 2019.
“This defendant’s conduct constituted a massive breach of trust,” said Murray. “The defendant sought to profit from his position as a prison chaplain by smuggling drugs and other contraband into a federal prison. These reprehensible acts endangered the safety of the inmates and staff at FCI-Berlin. The defendant deserves the substantial prison sentence that he received for his unlawful and unethical conduct.”