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Prisoners Pursue Prison Industries Litigation Despite Continued Retaliation

By Ken Krause

Several prisoners at the Ely State Prison in Ely, Nevada are continuing to litigate despite repeated retaliation by Ely State Prison officials. Kenneth Krause, Edward Wills and David Bean began a federal RICO suit in 1991 alleging that the prison drapery factory was not paying minimum wage in violation of their employment contracts and federal law.

The original action was dismissed in the Nevada federal district court. A follow up Qui Tam action based upon the same facts was effectively "frozen" in the U.S. District court for the Central District of California, supposedly because the three had not provided the U.S. government with a copy of the exhibits. The court then sealed the file.

The latest action alleges that prison officials submitted false reports to the federal government claiming that they were paying the prisoners the minimum wage, but Krause, Wills and Bean conducted their own investigation and found that the prisoners were not being paid anywhere near the minimum wage at the time the certification reports were made.

Apparently during the litigation of these cases the three of them must have touched a nerve somewhere because in September of 1991 they were written up for filing "harassment" lawsuits. The three had written to the shop's customers inquiring into the wage rate that the shop was claiming they were paying the prisoners at the ESP drapery factory. They also wrote to the U.S. Justice Department asking for copies of the shop's certification documents. These inquiries were the basis of the prison write-ups and charges. The charges were that they were illegally using the U.S. Mails for investigation work; that they illegally contacted prison employees or independent contractors; and that they used the prison telephone illegally. The prison charges were eventually dismissed, however, the three go to trial late in either '93 or '94 on their allegations that the write-ups were retaliatory.

The retaliation did not stop there. In September of 1992 the three were again the focus of prison officials' wrath when they were placed in administrative segregation. Prison officials claimed that it was for their own protection, but lower echelon prison officials admitted that the order to lock the three up came from the Director of the NDOP and assistant director for Prison Industries. They were not amused by the three prisoners' activities. Their stay in lock up ended only when a new warden came to ESP. The second round of retaliation is the subject of a second retaliation suit by Krause, Wills and Bean.

Prisoners have a constitutional right to use the mails and file legal actions and should be encouraged when uncovering such criminal activity by prison officials as was done in this case. Any prisoner who would like to inquire into how to conduct a civil investigation should contact either Kenneth Krause or Edward Wills at the Ely State Prison, P.O. Box 1989, Ely, NV 89301-1989. [Editors Note : Nevada does not permit its prisoners to correspond directly with other captives.]

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