STILLWATER, Minn. (KMSP) - Washington County prosecutor Brent Wartner is something of an expert when it comes to prison inmate-staffer relationships.
"The offenders are working 24 hours a day to put staff in compromising positions,” he explained.
Wartner spent 8 years as an attorney at the Department of Corrections and is now a top prosecutor in Washington County. His office recently charged a female food service employee with a gross misdemeanor for having a physical, intimate relationship with a male inmate at the Stillwater prison.
A police report detailing the investigation says the woman, 44-year-old Leah Lukach admitted to smuggling in contraband including drugs and cigarettes.
"The greatest fear is smuggling in a weapon. If they ever can get a staff member so compromised they feel they have to smuggle in a weapon. Obviously, that puts everyone in danger,” Wartner said.
A more frightening nightmare played out earlier this summer when a prison tailor shop employee helped two inmates escape a maximum-security lock-up in New York. A weeks-long manhunt ensued and the woman was arrested and charged.
In Stillwater, Lukach worked for a metro-based food service management company called A'viands. The company provided food services inside the Stillwater prison earlier this year. Lukach told investigators that sometime in April, she started up a relationship with an inmate incarcerated for robbery. Eventually, things escalated. There was the contraband and a make-out session in the prison cooler. Lukach apparently thought the two would have a life together once the inmate finished his prison sentence next October.
Instead, she is scheduled to be arraigned for her alleged indiscretions on Thursday. In her interview with police, Lukach admitted she had been trained on the proper boundaries with inmates. She even alluded to a video she had watched, explaining the inmate manipulated the relationship just as she had been warned.
Lukach has since been fired by the food company, and the Department of Corrections said Monday she is no longer working in any correctional facility. The DOC no longer uses contract kitchen staff and this marks the first prosecution case of its kind in at least 3 years, a spokesperson told Fox 9 via email.
Department of Corrections statement
“If an individual brings contraband into a facility or has illegal contact with an offender, not only can it be a serious crime, but it creates a dangerous prison atmosphere that will not tolerated.”