Veteran Correction Officer Robert Whitfield, 48, was arrested Tuesday in the Inwood section of Manhattan, near a drop-off point where he had sent an accomplice to pick up the drugs, prosecutors said.
"The charges in this case accuse one correction officer of betraying the public's trust in the most reprehensible way," said city Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan.
"Robert Whitfield is alleged to have used his power at Rikers Island and his access to incarcerated drug dealers for personal financial gain," Brennan said. "Not only is he accused of soliciting bribes to free an inmate, but he is charged with taking payment in cocaine."
Whitfield, 48, of Queens was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on felony charges of possession of a controlled substance, conspiracy, bribe taking and official misconduct.
He is being held in protective custody in lieu of $50,000 cash bail.
"He's been a model employee, very reliable," defense lawyer Peter Troxler said in court, adding that Whitfield has received numerous commendations and has not missed a day of work in 21 years as a correction officer.
It was unclear Wednesday night if Whitfield could have made good on his promise to arrange an early release for a prisoner on his own.
Whitfield faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. He was ordered to return to court on April 11.
"This Department has zero tolerance for any employee who compromises his or her position in any way or jeopardizes the safety and security of staff or inmates," said city Department of Correction Commissioner Dora Schriro.
"The allegations against one officer should not tarnish the hard-earned reputation of the thousands who honor their oath of upholding the law every day," Schriro said.
Brennan said Whitfield told an inmate in January that he could secure his freedom for cash and drugs.
The inmate, who is still incarcerated at Rikers, had pleaded guilty to drug charges and was awaiting sentencing, a source said.
Word of the bribe prompted Brennan's office to launch an undercover investigation with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the city Department of Investigation.
The inmate, whose name was not released, cooperated in the investigation, a source said.
In a phone call with an undercover DEA agent posing as a relative of the inmate, Whitfield agreed to have the prisoner released once he received the cocaine delivery, officials said.
At 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Whitfield sent Islime Duvivier to pick up the drugs near the intersection of Broadway and Dyckman St. in Inwood, officials said.
Duvivier, 48, of Queens, was busted as soon as he accepted the coke, officials said. A DEA strike force and DOI investigators nabbed Whitfield in his car two blocks from the drop off site.
DEA Special Agent John Gilbride said Whitfield's behavior is a slap in the face to everyone in law enforcement.
"This investigation identified this individual who swore an oath to keep prisoners in jail when in reality he was going to attempt to break unknown individuals out of jail only to make a profit," Gilbride said.
DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn said Whitfield has taken "corruption to a new level."