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DEER LODGE -- A former Montana State Prison correctional officer was sentenced in Deer Lodge district court this week for felony transfer of illegal items – alcohol and tobacco – to inmates.

After a lengthy sentencing hearing, Judge Ray Dayton sentenced Brett Bernard Lombardi, 36, of Deer Lodge to four 13-month consecutive commitments to the Department of Corrections with conditions that include screening — including a mental evaluation — for appropriate placement. Two of the terms were suspended for a total of 26 months custodial and 26 months of supervised probation with conditions. There was no fine, but Lombardi must pay court fees.

In June 2017, Lombardi pleaded nolo contendere to the charge of the transferring alcohol to an inmate, admitting there was likelihood a jury would find him guilty of the offense, and pleaded guilty to three charges of illegal transfer of tobacco. In the plea agreement, four other charges of illegal transfer of items between December 2013 and July 2014 were dismissed, as was a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct.

During the sentencing hearing, Montana State Prison Warden Michael Fletcher said illegal transfer of items to inmates endangers the safety of staff and other inmates. Tobacco leads to bringing in drugs and other contraband that allow inmates to conduct an underground economy.

“Contraband is not a victimless crime,” Fletcher said. “A corrupt staff member jeopardizes everyone that comes into the prison. It is our job to keep staff, volunteers, and other inmates safe. Safety relies on staff having integrity, because it affects them, their family, fellow staff safety and morale, and the community.”

Fletcher recognized Lombardi as a decorated and honorable veteran who isn’t blaming PTSD for his actions. He hopes Lombardi’s punishment will be a deterrent to others who work at the prison, because it is a serious offense and should be punished by the highest amount the court feels appropriate, he said.

Jeffrey Crowe, a criminal investigator at the prison, said an inmate who was a primary witness in this case died from a blocked bowel after he swallowed a balloon of contraband tobacco to keep it from staff. He also said four other inmates involved in this case were prosecuted and received prison sentences.

Defense witnesses included Lombardi’s common-law wife and mother of their two young children.

Robert W. McCann, a retired FBI agent, former Marine, and police counselor who befriended the defendant two years ago, said Lombardi knows he “screwed up.” He is a crushed person and is concerned about his boys, he said. He is not dangerous, has no criminal history, and is remorseful that he didn’t realize he was putting co-workers in danger, he said.

Joseph Lombardi, the defendant’s father, testified that when his son returned from military duty in Iraq, he was different from the young man who had a normal childhood, got good grades, never did drugs, has an excellent relationship with his parents, and is a gentleman.

“I am a Vietnam vet, and when Brett came back in 2004, he was quiet, withdrawn, angry, and moody. I suspected PTSD. He was diagnosed with it and received treatment from the VA. I saw positive changes in him with his relationship with Ashley as they created a family. I am concerned about the impact on his mental health if he is incarcerated and the impact on Ashley and the boys,’’ he said.

Judge Dayton considered the state’s argument for serious punishment to deter wrongful behavior and the defense attorney’s recommendation for a deferred sentence. He said there must be punishment and recognized Lombardi’s mental health needs but said that a probationary sentence was not right either.

Lombardi was remanded to custody of the Department of Corrections.

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