Warden of cash-strapped Wyatt Detention Center granted bonus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The warden of the financially-troubled Wyatt Detention Center has been given a $40,000 “retention bonus” on top of his salary for agreeing to run the prison for the past year.

Brian Murphy – who has worked at the facility since 2010 – makes an annual salary of $175,680 according to a prison spokesperson. Superior Court Associate Justice Michael Silverstein approved the bonus payment Tuesday afternoon.

Facing crushing debt, Silverstein placed the distressed prison into receivership in June 2014, appointing lawyer Jonathan Savage to oversee the finances.

In court, Savage told the judge he promised Murphy the $40,000 bonus in an effort to convince him to stay on as warden, calling him “critical to the operation.”

Several groups, from bondholders to the union representing the correctional officers, raised questions about the timing of the bonus considering the prison’s financial state.

Carly Beauvais Iafrate, a lawyer for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 50 – which represents the correctional officers – said the agreement should have been ironed out by all interested parties when Savage made the promise last summer.

“It’s unusual that we’d be giving the warden $40,000 when we already think he’s being overpaid,” Iafrate told the judge.

She compared Murphy’s salary to that of R.I. Department of Corrections Director A.T. Wall, who makes just over $145,000 a year.

The Adult Correctional Institution (ACI) houses roughly 3,000 inmates compared to Wyatt’s 570, according to Iafrate. Unlike the ACI, the Wyatt is a privately-run prison facility.

William Fischer, a spokesperson for the Wyatt Detention Facility Corporation said Murphy took on more responsibility when the prison eliminated the CEO position last year.

“It was critically important that he remain in his post during this receivership process,” Fischer said. “Professional opportunities arise but to have to switch gears mid-stream during this receivership process and bring another warden in could have been a costly endeavor as well.”

Silverstein approved the bonus payment lauding Murphy’s work as warden, but said that “it probably would have been better to present this earlier on.”

As part of the agreement Murphy has to sign a release promising he won’t sue the prison, bondholders, the City of Central Falls and other parties when his employment comes to an end. His contract is set to expire in June.

Also revealed in court, a hearing is scheduled for Monday where Savage told the judge they are optimistic the prison could emerge from receivership.

He said Monday’s hearing could be “a dawn for a new day and bright future” for the prison.

The prison’s financial woes came to a head in 2008 when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stopped sending detainees there after a high-profile death of an inmate.

Hiu Lui Ng, 34, died at the Wyatt in August 2008 while being held by ICE for overstaying his visa. According to a lawsuit filed by the family, prison officials ignored his pleas for help due to severe pain. Shortly before his death doctors found Ng was riddled with cancer and his spine was fractured.

ICE’s departure cost Wyatt millions of dollars a year in annual revenue. In the wake of the scandal the prison stopped giving promised annual payments to Central Falls, which at one time as high as $500,000 a year.

Matthew Jerzyk – the city solicitor for Central Falls – said he would withdraw an objection to Murphy’s bonus if the warden signed the release pledging not to file a suit. He also noted Mayor James Diossa took a 10 percent pay-cut as the city emerged from bankruptcy.

The bonus is “not the direction the city would have gone in.”

Jerzyk said the mayor is already assembling a new board of trustees in anticipation of the prison emerging from receivership.

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @TimWhiteRI

This report was modified from its original to reflect Central Falls would withdraw it’s objection on the condition of the release being signed.

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