Spy pen shows security risk of private employes in NC prisons

The spy pen, taken apart to show the USB connector.
The spy pen, taken apart to show the USB connector. NC Dept. of Public Safety

It would almost be worthy of a situation comedy, but someone taking a hidden video camera “spy pen” into a state prison is a serious breach of security.

The News & Observer’s Joe Neff reported Sunday that an employee of the Keith Corp., which has contracts to handle prison maintenance at several state facilities, used a spy pen to record a meeting he had with the prison superintendent at Maury Correctional Institution in Goldsboro. It seems the employee, Andrew Foster, who was the top Keith employee at Maury, thought the superintendent, Dennis Daniels, had not treated him fairly.

He saw to it that the video of the meeting was sent to two Keith Corp. supervisors in Charlotte. One of those supervisors watched it and then told investigators he instructed Foster not to do it again. A state employee later found the spy pen on an office desk.

No one at Keith Corp. reported the use of the hidden camera to prison officials, even though no electronic devices are allowed inside prison walls unless authorized by the prison superintendent. Keith Corp. officials declined to address the matter with Neff.

That part of all this is inexcusable, given that Keith Corp. has a contract with the state to do prison maintenance. A contractor owes the state a full explanation and not just a “no comment” and the statement that Foster doesn’t work for the company anymore.

This report comes after an earlier one disclosing that Graeme Keith Sr. and his son, Graeme “Greg” Keith Jr., had a special meeting in Charlotte in October of last year, facilitated by their friend Gov. Pat McCrory. McCrory says he didn’t hear the part of the meeting when Keith Sr., according to a Department of Public Safety official at the meeting, argued for extending his company’s contracts because he had contributed money to the campaigns of McCrory and others.

A firestorm ensued, with Keith denying he’d said anything like that and other state officials running for political cover. It’s not that anyone in or out of politics would be shocked that a contributor expected something in return for his money. But usually donors are more subtle than Keith is alleged to have been.

State prison officials objected to extending Keith Corp.’s contracts in part because of security concerns about having private employees working at a prison. Now comes this embarrassment with its “Get Smart” bumbling, a spy pen and Keith Corp. employees scrambling to avoid explaining what happened and why.

The bottom line is that this episode wounds the Keith Corp.’s credibility. It is a painful irony that this serious security problem has come to light shortly after Keith Sr. was trying to make a case that his company should be the private maintenance contractor for all prisons.

The Keith Corp.’s employee’s undercover use of a contraband spy pen reveals that to be a bad idea.