NEWPORT — A former Cheshire County House of Corrections officer won’t go to jail after he pleaded no contest Monday to a charge that he illegally broadcast a conversation with a fellow jail employee in an effort to aid his employee union.
Benjamin Graves, 34, of Park Avenue in Keene, was originally charged with the prohibited interception and disclosure of oral communications, a class B felony, after he tried to get one jail employee to disclose damaging information about the facility’s administration while he secretly broadcast the conversation to another jail employee.
On Monday, he entered a no contest plea to a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct. No contest means Graves admits the state has sufficient facts to get a conviction at trial, but he does not have to say in court that he committed any crime.
Sullivan Superior Court Judge Brian Tucker sentenced him to 90 days in jail, suspended for a year so long as Graves stays out of further trouble.
The case was moved from the Cheshire Superior Court to the Sullivan Superior Court because Graves’ attorney, Charles Keefe, is friends with Cheshire Superior Court Judge David Ruoff.
Cheshire County Attorney Chris McLaughlin told Tucker that the issue boils down to a union spat. Graves was an active and vocal member of the corrections officers union and he was looking to get information on the jail’s management in order to benefit the union, McLaughlin said.
“He wanted to get dirt on the jail’s administration,” McLaughlin said.
In October of last year, Graves invited a jail employee out for dinner at a Keene restaurant. The employee, a woman, later told investigators that Graves showed up at the restaurant with his roommate, and they both appeared to be intoxicated, McLaughlin said. When she asked, Graves reportedly told her that he and his roommate had split a 12-pack of beer before they arrived at the restaurant, McLaughlin said.
Graves then tried to engage the woman in a conversation about the inner workings of the jail’s administration, McLaughlin said. Unbeknownst to the woman at the time, Graves was broadcasting the conversation through an app on his phone to another jail employee, also a woman, McLaughlin said. The women talked the next day and reported the incident to jail administrators, McLaughlin said.
Graves is no longer employed at the jail. There is no indication that Graves was directed to broadcast the conversation by his union. As part of the plea agreement, Graves agrees to have no contact with either woman. He’s allowed to seek to have the misdemeanor conviction amended to a violation-level offense if he remains of good behavior for the next year.