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PROBE FINDS NO EVIDENCE OF 'SEX CLUB' INVESTIGATION CLEARS HOLDING CENTER STAFF

Claims of a "sex club" at the Erie County Holding Center could not be corroborated, officials said today.

The admission came even though one Holding Center guard was fired for fraternizing with former inmates and another was demoted for leaking word to the fired deputy of a probe of alleged sexual improprieties at the downtown lockup.

Sheriff Thomas F. Higgins said today he did not believe there have been any sexual indiscretions between inmates and guards at the facility, with the exception of a sergeant who resigned under pressure last month.

Questioning of almost 300 Sheriff's Department employees failed to substantiate the claims, he said.

Higgins and Erie County Attorney Patrick H. NeMoyer said the Erie County district attorney's office is conducting a criminal probe of a former jail supervisor who was demoted for alerting the fired deputy about the probe of his fraternization.

Higgins said his agency's monthlong investigation, praised for its thoroughness by District Attorney Kevin M. Dillon, showed most of the allegations came from female inmates. They accused guards who had earlier filed administrative charges against them for jailhouse infractions.

Other than the sergeant, "we could not corroborate any other instance of inappropriate sexual contact on the part of any member of the Holding Center staff," Higgins said.

Higgins and NeMoyer refused to release the names of the three officers implicated in the probe. They said that all three may yet begin labor union grievance proceedings.

NeMoyer said he advised Higgins that no action would be taken against Holding Center employees without corroboration.

Higgins said the resignation of the sergeant will not lead to criminal charges because both that former officer and jailed murderess Wendy Bummer Smythe, 22, have admitted their sexual activities were "freely entered into by both parties."

Higgins said he fired the other deputy for fraternizing with former inmates and demoted his supervisor for not reporting his activities to departmental higher-ups because their alleged conduct violated departmental regulations and "could have threatened the security of the Holding Center."

"Such conduct lacks the essential qualities of leadership and trust" needed in supervising officers, Higgins said.

"I can also tell you that these past weeks have been an ordeal for the men and women who work at the Holding Center," Higgins said.

"They are a proud group of career professionals who have had their professional integrity needlessly called into question."

Higgins said he has "full confidence" in the remaining staff at the Holding Center. Some 12,000 inmates are incarcerated at the 540-inmate coed facility annually. The Holding Center staff numbers about 200 male and female guards.

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