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AZTEC — A 32-year-old kitchen employee at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center was accused Tuesday of having sex with a male inmate.

Jennifer Bengfort, also known as Jennifer McKnight, was charged Tuesday in Aztec Magistrate Court with two counts of second-degree criminal sexual penetration.

Bengfort faces up to 18 years in prison and $25,000 in fines if convicted.

According to an arrest warrant, jail officials first alerted the San Juan County Sheriff's Office to the alleged abuse of an inmate on Jan. 27.

Deputy jail administrator Daniel Webb told detectives that an inmate had volunteered information regarding an illicit relationship between another inmate and Bengfort.

Bengfort worked as a manager for Summit Food Services, a company that contracts with the detention center, the warrant states.

As a manager, she oversaw inmate activities in the jail's kitchen.

According to the warrant, the jailhouse informant told detectives that Bengfort and an inmate were romantically involved and they would often disappear into the kitchen's walk-in cooler together.

Detectives searched through the inmate's mail and discovered sexual letters sent between the employee and inmate.

Detectives further searched the walk-in cooler for forensic evidence, and a stain swabbed by detectives tested presumptive positive for the presence of semen.

A search warrant was executed on Bengfort's residence on Feb. 6, the warrant states. Bengfort provided a statement then admitting to having had oral sex with the inmate at the jail.

Letters sent between the couple indicated that they engaged in sexual intercourse at the jail, according to the warrant.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien said Wednesday that though the evidence suggested that the relationship between the inmate and Bengfort was consensual, an inmate cannot consent to a sexual relationship with a jailhouse employee or guard, according to state statutes.

"There is a legitimate reason for criminalizing sex between guards and inmates, partly because a guard involved in sexual intercourse is vulnerable to bribery and extortion," O'Brien said.

According to court records, the inmate was being held at the detention center on a bond for fourth-degree felony fraud.

It is the policy of The Daily Times not to name sexual assault victims.

Jail administrator Tom Havel did not respond to a request for comment.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and stgarrison@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.

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