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Tuesday, August 4, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Airway Heights correctional officer charged with smuggling drugs to prisoners

UPDATED: Tue., July 21, 2020

A fence topped with barbed wire surrounds the Airway Heights Corrections Center on Monday, July 9, 2018. Federal agents have arrested a longtime correctional officer suspected of smuggling methamphetamine and other drugs into the state prison.  (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
A fence topped with barbed wire surrounds the Airway Heights Corrections Center on Monday, July 9, 2018. Federal agents have arrested a longtime correctional officer suspected of smuggling methamphetamine and other drugs into the state prison. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Federal agents have arrested a longtime correctional officer suspected of smuggling methamphetamine and other drugs into the Airway Heights Corrections Center.

Michael T. Mattern, 45, who worked at the state prison for 20 years, was arrested after entering a secure part of the facility Monday morning. In his lunchbox, authorities found a tobacco tin containing two rubber gloves, which in turn contained plastic bags filled with about 15 grams of meth, according to a 63-page criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Spokane.

Authorities also found heroin and Suboxone, a drug intended to treat opioid addiction that is often abused and popular among Airway Heights inmates, according to the complaint. Suboxone, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, comes in dissolving strips about the size of a fingernail that sell for up to $250 apiece inside the facility, according to the complaint.

On Sunday evening, agents had followed Mattern’s car as he drove from his Spokane Valley home to the parking lot of a Rite Aid store at Mission Avenue and Argonne Road. After he waited for a few minutes, a second vehicle arrived and the driver handed Mattern a large white envelope – believed to contain the drugs – through the car windows, according to the complaint.

The FBI began investigating Mattern after inmates housed in the R Unit, where he worked, reported him to other prison officials. According to the complaint, the prison’s internal investigation “led to evidence that Mattern has been compromised as a corrections officer and is introducing controlled substances into AHCC’s secure facility in exchange for money, drugs and sex.”

Janelle Guthrie, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said Mattern submitted his resignation on Monday. She noted that prison officials actively assisted the FBI from the start of the investigation.

The complaint names several co-conspirators who, as of Monday, didn’t appear to have been charged in connection with the investigation.

The document includes transcripts of recorded phone calls between an Airway Heights inmate named Joseph Burnett, who is serving time for theft and robbery, and a Spokane Valley woman named Brandy Lorentzen, who was convicted on a federal heroin trafficking charge in 2008 and later violated her supervision terms.

In the phone calls, which took place as early as March and continued until Saturday, Burnett and Lorentzen spoke in coded language about the drugs they planned to smuggle and arranged for Lorentzen to meet with a man they referred to as “Goldie” and “gold car guy,” according to the complaint.

Mattern drove a gold-colored 2005 Nissan Altima, and authorities believe it was Lorentzen who met him at the Rite Aid in her Chrysler PT Cruiser. In an interview at the prison, Mattern acknowledged receiving $1,000 in an envelope on Sunday evening, according to the complaint.

The complaint says Mattern was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence in January 2016. State court records show he was going through a divorce from his second wife at the time. The couple filed for bankruptcy in 2002 and again in 2014.

Mattern remained in the Spokane County Jail on Monday evening and was expected to appear in court for a custody hearing on Tuesday. He faces one count of possession of more than 5 grams of meth with intent to distribute, which carries a minimum prison sentence of 10 years.

Editor’s note: This story was changed on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, to correct the minimum prison sentence associated with the charge against Mattern.

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