Guard arrested, accused of smuggling drugs into eastern Washington prison

Airway Heights Prison

SPOKANE, Wash. — A guard at a state prison in Airway Heights faces federal criminal charges for smuggling drugs into the facility, according to a criminal complaint filed Monday.

Michael Mattern faces charges of possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine.

“There is probable cause to believe that Mattern has smuggled Suboxone, heroin and methamphetamine into the AHCC,” a federal agent wrote in the criminal complaint.

The 63-page complaint details a web of corruption and conspiracy to bring drugs into the prison.

It says that multiple confidential informants who are inmates at the prison informed investigators that a guard in the “R” unit was bringing in drugs. Some specifically identified Mattern. That led to the start of the investigation, which federal agents say “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.”

Investigators say the COVID-19 crisis helped their investigation because visitors and outside volunteers have not been allowed in the prison since March. That means anyone bringing in contraband must have been DOC employees, according to the complaint.

The documents say Mattern has worked at the prison for 20 years.

In the details of the investigation, federal agents describe reviewing phone calls made by one inmate, Joseph Burnett, to two people who are outside of the facility who have previously served prison time on drug charges. In the calls, they refer to “Goldy” or “Gold car guy”; Mattern drives a gold Nissan Altima. Agents surveilled Mattern and saw him meeting with one of those ex-cons at times that correspond to what was talked about in the phone calls. Those calls contain conversations about obtaining Suboxone strips, which the complaint says would be brought into the prison by Mattern for Burnett to sell.

The complaint says cameras inside the prison captured Mattern meeting with another inmate in a storage area around the time one of the deliveries was supposed to take place. Federal agents also believe Burnett was using other inmates’ pin numbers to make calls in order to conceal criminal activity.

Federal agents detail one call that they say shows Burnett talking to one of the women defined as a co-conspirator, saying the two were arranging for someone to bring Mattern a prostitute and some Suboxone for personal use.

Suboxone is a drug used to treat opioid addiction; it’s an opioid itself and can be used to get high.

On May 6, federal agents believe Mattern brought meth into the facility. They detail a call between Burnett and the woman on the outside, with Burnett asking about a birthday card she sent him and asking her to send in more. Federal agents write, “It is a common technique for inmates to have associates soak greeting cards in methamphetamine and then send the cards into correctional facilities as a means to get methamphetamine inside facilities.”

They reference having it ready for “gold car” to bring in the next several days.

Agents recall phone calls in which inmates say Suboxone is going for $250 a piece and are the most wanted items in the jail.

A confidential informant shared information about the Suboxone supply inside the prison on July 8th. That informant told investigators the drug was coming from “a cop in R unit.” While the investigators say the CI has a history of making false statements and drug charges, they say the CI’s information is consistent with other information independently obtained in the investigation.

In the complaint, investigators detail surveillance they conducted on Mattern’s home in Spokane Valley. According to the complaint, they followed Mattern to a parking lot at Mission and Argonne. They saw him get out of his car and talk to someone in a PT Cruiser. They followed that car and saw the woman who is identified as the co-conspirator get into the car at a Dollar Tree store. A recorded call from inside the prison that day shows the woman talking about exiting a Dollar Tree store and that she had just gone to see “Goldy” to exchange money for drugs.

Investigators say it appeared the inmate, the co-conspirator (who is not being named because she has not been charged with a crime) and Mattern have been planning a significant delivery into the prison as soon as the co-conspirator can get the right amount of drugs to Mattern. They suspected that delivery was going to happen the weekend of July 17th.

They interpret one planning call as Burnett “reinforcing that he wants to pay Mattern $1,000 for delivering drugs into the AHCC.”

On Saturday and Sunday, the FBI and investigators from Airway Heights were watching Mattern’s home and vehicle. They say they saw Mattern go into a parking lot at Mission and Argonne and again met up with the PT Cruiser. The woman identified as the co-conspirator was driving the car and saw the woman hand Mattern a large white envelope before they drove away.

Federal agents concluded from that visit and the recorded prison phone calls that it was a meeting for Mattern and the woman to exchange money for drugs that would be brought into the facility.

Monday, Mattern was arrested at a secure part of the Airway Heights Corrections Center. During a search of his lunchbox, they found ziplock baggies later identified as methamphetamine.

“The use of a rubber glove as packaging was consistent with Burnett’s prior conversations with [the co-conspirator] about packaging drugs for delivery into the AHCC.”

When investigators interviewed Mattern, he “acknowledged that he received $1,000 in an envelope on the evening of July 19, 2020, from the person I know to be [the co-conspirator.]”

Mattern was booked into the Spokane County Jail at 8:44 Monday morning.

If convicted, he faces at least 10 years in prison and up to a life sentence.