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Florida's Department of Corruption

Florida's Department of Corruption

by David M. Reutter

An underlying principle of our penal system is to instill respect for the laws and rules that govern our society. As such, those charged with running our nation's jails and prisons have an ethical obligation to set an example for all citizens, including employees under their watch and prisoners in their custody. Investigations of the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC), however, have revealed that more often FDOCS leaders are seeking to emulate the criminal acts of prisoners.

Where you follow, so shall you go. Prisoners, by their lot, are unemployed and confined in jails or prisons. As of August 2006, more than 50 key upper-level FDOC staff members have been fired or forced to retire. An additional 21, including former FDOC Secretary James V. Crosby, have been arrested and indicted. They are being transformed from the watchers to the watched.

To those familiar with FDOC's inner workings, the revelations come as no surprise. Everybody likes to use the phrase good ole boys club, thats what it is out there and they protect one another. There is a code of silence, says a former guard identified by First Coast News as Dave.

But that all began to change when Gov. Jeb Bush perched a good ole boy at the top of FDOCs roost. Trouble usually erupts when a group feels invincible and above the law. I would equate it to the mafia, yes, said a Florida prison guard who requested anonymity. Some of them have the mentality that they are untouchable.

The good ole boys kept prisoners and their comrades in line by using plain old fear. Theyll find some way to get even with you and thats well known. The intimidation factor is unbelievable, stated Ron McAndrew, a former FDOC warden.

A Dream Come True

Shortly after Bush became Floridas governor in 1999, he sought an FDOC outsider to make changes in the corrections department. Enter Michael Moore, a former director of the Texas and South Carolina prison systems. From the start, Moore was met with resistance from veteran and well-entrenched FDOC employees. By 2003, the morale of FDOC employees was low.

To remedy that, Bush tapped a veteran prison employee as the new FDOC Secretary. His choice was Crosby, a born and raised good ole boy from the infamous Iron Triangle, an area in rural North Central Florida that is dependent upon prisons to support its economy. It is the area where Florida prisons originated, and you can find a grandfather, father and son working the same shift at the same facility.

After receiving a degree in journalism at the University of Florida, Crosby began his prison career as a classification specialist in 1975 at the North Florida Reception Center, which is the heart of the Iron Triangle because it feeds the body of other prisons. From there, Crosby worked his way up the ranks until he became warden. He oversaw five prisons until he became the overseer of Florida State Prison (FSP).

Crosby was in charge of FSP when guards beat to death Frank Valdez in his death row cell in 1999. [See: PLN, Oct. 1999, p.1]. Crosby is currently facing liability for Valdezs death. Shortly after Valdezs death, Crosby was promoted to Regional Director over one-quarter of FDOC's prisons.

Besides being a master at moving up the prison systems hierarchy, Crosby had been heavily involved in Republican politics, beginning in the early 1980s. He served as Mayor of Starke, home of FSP. He also served as a local volunteer for George W. Bushs 2000 presidential campaign, ultimately serving as a delegate at the 2000 Republican Convention. He also organized rallies for Jeb Bush's 2002 re-election campaign. Whether or not Governor Bush was repaying a loyal party-man for his work, Crosbys appointment as Secretary of FDOC was wildly popular among the FDOC faithful.

Sen. Rod Smith (DAlachua), who represents thousands of prison employees, hailed Crosby's 2003 appointment as Secretary as a dream come true. As it turns out, it was a pipe dream that faced a rude awakening by scandal and investigations.

Roid Rage

What will make you laugh, will make you cry, goes the old saying. For years, FDOC guards and administrators have laughed as prisoner snitches rat out their fellow prisoners for drugs or other contraband. Usually the rat receives a chunk of change or some other special privilege. More often, however, the snitchs only reward is to satisfy his anger, jealousy or resentment directed at another prisoner.

On October 27, 2003, an angry girlfriend blew the lid off a federal investigation begun in March 2003. That investigation started when U.S. Custom and Immigration officials intercepted strange packages from Egypt. The packages, found in Iron Triangle post offices within Starke, Raiford, MacClenny and Keystone Heights, were addressed to FDOC guards. Once opened, federal investigators found anabolic steroids.

Seeking protection while she moved her belongings out of her boyfriend's house, Ashley Faye Mahoney, 19, called the Clay County Sheriffs Office to oversee the operation. Once finished, Mahoney invited the sheriffs deputy into the bedroom she shared with Florida State Prison guard Benjamin Zoltowski. Once in the room, Mahoney opened a top dresser drawer that contained a folded wad of cash and a cardboard box overflowing with gallon-sized freezer bags filled with pink and blue pills.

After obtaining a search warrant, deputies found 1,900 steroid tablets and ampules of injectable steroids. The real jackpot of Mahoney's anger at her ex-boyfriend, however, was a ledger containing sales of steroids to other prison guards between April and June 2006.

The investigation that followed revealed that Clayton Manning, a former FDOC guard, was working as a bodyguard in Egypt in 2003. He began shipping steroids to friends and relatives in North Florida, making $73,000 in profits over a two-year period. By January 2006, ten FDOC guards and employees had been indicted on charges of selling or possession of steroids; six pled guilty and all receiving probation. In May 2006, FDOC began random drug testing of all employees for drugs and steroids.

Medical experts say prolonged, high-dose use of steroids can result in roid-rage, a reaction that can lead to violent outbursts, property damage, and even suicide. This may explain why so many FDOC guards are so mean and violent, and how prisoners like Valdez can be beaten to death by prison staff.

The Ringer

The use of steroids by prison guards begs the question: why use them? If you (as an employee) start to exist in a system in places where the other side is advanced, where the definition of prison culture is to be bigger, better, badder, meaner than the prisoners, that (behavior) is where the reward seems to be and that can affect lots of those good people, said current FDOC Secretary James McDonough.

Others, however, believe McDonoughs response is only part of the equation. The other part lies within similar reasoning behind the steroid scandal that has engulfed major league baseball: To be a better and stronger ballplayer.

Its security last, ball first. Our lives are at risk by not having enough staff on the compound and that staff is being used elsewhere for other things. Used for example working day shift or Saturday, Sundays so that they can play ball on Saturdays and Sundays, said a guard whom First Coast News identified only as TJ.

Softball was so important among FDOC employees that administrators would pay guards to practice, place ballplayers on the payroll who were not FDOC employees, prepare false prison credentials, and fund parties for the prisons ball team. After Crosby became FDOC Secretary, the Annual Secretarys Softball Tournament became more important than prison operations.

An April 1, 2005 brawl at an FDOC softball tournament at the Tallahassee Armory sparked an investigation that uncovered the extremes that prison officials went to to win softball games. Eventually, softball brought the prison systems good ole boy network to its knees.

The April fight began when James Edward OBryan, a former guard, slipped on vomit and beer. He fell, knocking down a woman who worked for Regional Director Allen Clark. Clark then straddled OBryan, beating him while two other prison officials, Col. Richard Frye and Capt. James A. Bowen, kicked and punched OBryan.

While police were never called, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) learned of the incident and began an investigation. OBryan was fearful of retribution and refused to press charges. We know about the intimidation, FDLE agent Tim Westveer told OBryan. We dont want to get anyone else hurt & this is part of a bigger puzzle.

A bigger part of the puzzle was what insiders already knew. I only know of two with certainty that were either professional or semi-professional ballplayers that were hired and actually put into positions and whether or not they worked I dont know. It became an obsession to win, to do anything to win, said an FDOC guard.

Mark Guerra is the husband of a woman who works at Apalachee Correctional Institution in Northern Florida. He also used to pitch for the Houston Astros. Prison officials paid him to work in the prison library, but the only time he showed up for work was to play in the prison staffs softball tournament. Guerra eventually pled guilty to giving inaccurate or incomplete information to state and federal investigators. For that offense he was required to return the $1,237 he was paid to work at the prison and ordered to perform 50 hours of community service.

To allow guards to participate in softball tournaments, North Florida Reception Center Assistant Warden Lamar Griffis allowed guards to falsify time sheets; he also issued fake IDs for non-departmental persons so they could compete.

Wild and crazy things were happening, said former FDOC Warden Ron McAndrew. One warden took his prison softball team to Las Vegas, gave them $35,000 and said have a good time, boys. Youve earned it. While its uncertain which team enjoyed that perk, it is known that the Apalachee team won the 24th Annual Secretarys Tournament.

Before that tournament concluded, another fight broke out among prison guards at the finals in Jacksonville. That fight, on May 14, 2005, occurred in a parking lot at a motel where the guards were staying. One guard, Lt. James Barton, received a broken jaw and as a result missed about 270 hours of work. While no one faced criminal charges stemming from either of the two softball fights, everyone involved was eventually terminated by McDonough. One of the guards, Bradley Tunnell, was the son of FDLE Commissioner Guy Tunnell.

When it was disclosed that softball teams were being funded through employee clubs, McDonough closed the clubs shortly after taking FDOCs reins in February 2006. The clubs were funded by profits from staff barber shops, shoe shines, car washes and canteens. McDonough shut down all but the canteens and ordered audits after he froze each clubs account. He also put a stop to Friday casual days, which allowed employees to wear jeans to work in exchange for making a $5 weekly donation to the employee club. McDonough has ordered all prison employee clubs to have their accounts centralized to prevent abuses like the softball fiasco, which benefited only a few.

The Buddy System

One figure continually surfaces in each aspect of this sorry chapter of FDOC history: Allen Clark. Four guards charged with steroid-related crimes were on a softball team coached by Clark. He was involved in the April 1 softball fight, which resulted in his arrest (charges were later dropped). As will be seen, these are minor aspects of Clarks role in this story.

Clark is the classic FDOC employee prototype. When hired in 1988 at Lancaster Correctional Institution as a guard, he was a high-school dropout who had just finished a stint serving as a military police officer in the Marine Corps. His fortunes began to change when he transferred to Cross City Correctional Institution (CCCI) two years later. It was there that he met CCCIs new warden, James V. Crosby.

What makes Clark such a prototype is that despite amassing a growing disciplinary file, and a number of investigations into his actions, he continued to climb the FDOC promotion ladder. Shortly after arriving at CCCI, Clark returned to Lancaster off-duty and was involved in a fight with another guard. The charges were dropped before trial. Six months later, Crosby promoted Clark to Sergeant at CCCI.

Clark then followed Crosby when Crosby became warden at New River Correctional Institution in 1993. Less than 18 months later, Clark was promoted by Crosby to Lieutenant. A few months after that Clark was suspended for 60 days for using inappropriate force to quell a prisoner disturbance.

In March 1997, prison officials issued a counseling memorandum to Clark, instructing him not to discuss union issues on the job. In June he was promoted to Captain. Clark then followed Crosby to Florida State Prison (FSP).

Between that time and 1999, Clark was the subject of various complaints. His regional director, George Denman, filed numerous disciplinary charges against Clark in 1999 before sending him back to Lancaster. Clark was charged with moving a kitchen unit from FSP to have it installed in his staff housing, then lying about his involvement and using prisoner labor to renovate his house with prison materials without permission.

He was also charged with cutting the lock off a prison employee ballot box at New River to stuff it with ballots. The bolt cutters were not properly signed out of the prison. Finally, Clark was charged with spending employee club funds improperly. After a meeting with officials, no action was taken on the disciplinary charge.

Shortly thereafter, Clark returned to his place under Crosbys wing at FSP, where Crosby promoted him to Major. In 2000, Crosby increased Clarks rank to Colonel. When Crosby became FDOC Secretary in 2003, Clarks rising star skyrocketed. Three weeks after Crosbys appointment, Clark was appointed warden at FSP. Five months later he was New Rivers warden. In 2004, Crosby made Clark a regional director.

While everyone can understand the dynamics of the good ole boy system, an appointment Clark received from Governor Jeb Bush is the most puzzling. Despite being a high-school dropout with no legal training, Bush appointed Clark to serve on the Judicial Nominating Committee, which selects judges to serve six North Florida counties. This only proves that Floridas judicial system, like its prison system, is all about who you know or where your nose has been.

Early into his stint as FDOC Secretary, McDonough had identified over 100 questionable promotions during Crosbys three-year reign. Drunken revelry was apparently the root cause.

Actually, he inculcated it. He was the leader; again, a whole bunch of nonsense, McDonough said. Drinking was rewarded. Promotions were done Im sure of this, its not speculation on my part you have a great softball game, hit a bunch of home runs, have a wonderful party, get stinking drunk and youre the guy that hit the homerun, and youre the guy that drank more than anybody else, by golly, youre ready to be Colonel.
While Crosby was perched atop FDOCs roost, it was run as a fiefdom, said McAndrew.

Widespread Corruption

It is said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When Crosby progressed from being the warden overseeing Valdezs murder to Regional Director, and then to Secretary, a clear message was sent to FDOC staff and prisoners that malfeasance was perfectly acceptable. It sent to the field as to what is going to be condoned within the [FDOC], said Randy Berg of the Florida Justice Institute.

A group of prison guards took advantage of the situation. McDonough emphasized that this was just a select few of FDOC's 27,000 employees. Most, he claimed, were outraged. Nonetheless, theft, prisoner abuse, misuse of prisoner labor and state property, and sexual assault became rampant.

Goon squads fiercely beat inmates [and] intimidate the rest of the staff, said McAndrew. One lawsuit filed by a group of prisoners alleged that guards used chemical agents on them as a form of punishment.

In 2004, a female prisoner was taken to the all-male Zephyrhills Correctional Institution. She was held in a psychiatric ward for several days, naked. Her supervision on suicide watch was by male guards.

Sexual harassment, however, is nothing new in FDOC, even for employees. Since 2000, over 540 allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation have been filed by female FDOC staff. One guard claimed she was called from duty and gang-raped by five prison administrators in a Lake Butler cemetery.

A 2004 lawsuit filed by six female FDOC employees alleges they were subject to constant demands for sex by male guards and supervisors. They endured repeated groping, leering and joking about female anatomy. When they complained they were subjected to retaliation, while women who complied received better assignments and promotions, according to the lawsuit.

In October 2005, FDOC Capt. Keith William Davidson, 39, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his pickup, which was parked in a wooded area near Union Correctional Institution. The day before Davidson had been fired following an ongoing investigation into the sexual assault of a woman at the Bachelor Officers Quarters during a party to celebrate the promotion of Christopher Eddins to lieutenant.

Federal investigators further discovered an embezzlement scheme in FDOC's recycling program. FDOC collects all of the used aluminum cans from soft drinks sold to prisoners. Guards Theodore Foray and Paul Miller learned how lucrative aluminum recycling could be, and dipped their hands into the pot. The Iron Triangle guards sold bales of aluminum cans and other materials, and pocketed the money rather than crediting it to the prison. The recycling centers supervisor, Bryan Griffis, plead guilty as a result of the theft investigation.

In July 2006, another eight FDOC guards were charged with grand theft. Some were accused of stealing from FDOCs recycling program while others used prison labor on personal projects. Prisoners were used to make utility trailers, deer stands and other personal items.

One smart prisoner assured that the improper use of his labor and theft of state materials by Col. Richard Allen Frye, Jr. and Lt. Bobbie Dewane Ruise would be verifiable. Ruise told the prisoner that he needed a utility trailer to transport lawn equipment and supplies for his lawn care business. The prisoner then kept a written journal of the work he performed and welded his name or initials into the trailers he built for Frye and Ruise, who were among the eight charged with theft.

Prisoners were used for a multitude of personal tasks. If you were having problems with your TV, carry it out to the institution and get a convict to fix it. Inmates are not to be used, not to be used to work on personal property, not for personal gain, said Mark, an FDOC guard.

Sacking the Chief

In August 2004, Clark resigned from FDOC under the weight of media attention focused upon investigations relating to his involvement in the steroid ring and April 1 fight. Crosby offered his resignation to Gov. Bush, who refused to accept it. A few months later, Bush asked Crosby if he had done anything wrong. If he had, Bush said he would ask for his resignation. Crosby said he would stay because he had done nothing improper.

Bush learned otherwise in January 2006. It was then that the FBI advised they were building a strong case against Crosby and Clark, but urged he take no action. They wanted to make sure they had the case ironclad, Bush said in July 2006. They wanted to complete their investigation & Im not going to step on an FBI investigation.

In February, Bush was given the go-ahead, and he forced Crosby to resign. As the details come out, itll be clear that it was the appropriate thing to do, Bush said upon accepting Crosbys resignation. I cant speak of the details, but today was the appropriate time that we were given the chance to take action. Im saddened and really disappointed, but I had to do it.

Before the ink was dry on Crosbys resignation, law enforcement agents swarmed his office. They sealed a storage room in the administrative building with evidence tape and removed items from Crosbys office; they asked him to return several items of state property, including a leaf blower and ladder.

In June, federal agents raided the office of American Institution Services (AIS) in Gainesville. AIS was a subcontractor for Keefe Commissary Network, which runs the FDOCs prisoner canteen system. Shortly after that raid, Crosby and Clark began traveling the well-worn path traveled by those they used to watch over: the tangled jungle of the criminal justice system.

After Crosby became Secretary, FDOC entered into the contract to allow Keefe to run the prisoner canteens. In 2004, Crosby and Clark introduced the owner of AIS, Eddie Dugger, to Keefe representatives. They proposed amending the canteen contract to allow Keefe to operate the visiting park canteens, and AIS would handle the case for Keefe, which did not want to handle the money. From weekend receipts, Dugger and Keefe reached an agreement that would allow AIS to make around $1.5 million annually in profits.

In return, Dugger agreed to kick back 40 percent of these profits to Crosby and Clark. Crosby then ordered FDOC officials to amend the Keefe contract and approve AIS as a state vendor. From November 2004 through August 2005, Clark received $130,000 from AIS, which he split with Crosby. All proceeds were in cash, ranging from $1,000 to $12,000 monthly. On July 5, 2006, Crosby and Clark pled guilty to receiving kickbacks in federal court. They face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. They have agreed to repay the $130,000 they received. Florida officials have advised Crosby and Clark they will lose their retirement benefits. Sentencing has been tentatively scheduled for early 2007, having been postponed once already.

That will cost Crosby $237,000 and his $66,000 yearly pension. The former amount was a lump sum payment from Crosbys plan under the state Deferred Retirement Option Program. Despite making $124,000 yearly and living in state housing, greed got the best of Crosby. A result, Crosbys wife, Leslie, divorced him. He now lives with his parents in Starke.

Meanwhile, many guards are wondering if what used to make them laugh will make them cry. As part of their plea agreements, Crosby and Clark agreed to provide investigators with substantial assistance against other FDOC wrongdoers. Crosby has already snitched, saying Griffis provided him the items law enforcement requested upon his resignation, which were stolen from FDOC.

Cleaning Up

McDonough, to his credit, has taken full charge since being appointed Secretary of FDOC. Besides demoting and firing good old boys. McDonough is trying to restore credibility and fairness into FDOC.

He is examining and ordered rebidding of privatization contracts that service FDOC. This ranges from telephones, food service, pharmaceutical services to the canteen services. Already, the cost of collect calls has been reduced for prisoner families.

McDonough has no prior prison experience. But I do have experience in leadership, he said. That experience came as a commander in the Army, reaching colonel. McDonough has a simple rule: If youre dishonest, youre fired.

Many times, when top officials of a public agency are engaged in corrupt activity it fosters a culture of corruption which permeates the department, said FBI investigator Nestor Duarte.

Hopefully, under McDonoughs leadership, the FDOC will reach a level of fairness and integrity never witnessed in its history. From its inception, the FDOC has been located in the good old boy neighborhood, but was run from Tallahassee. Corruption and abuse has always been part of the system, it was just contained and rarely reached the top. McDonough knows he has a tough task before him. Is it going to be the professional culture that dominates? he asked. Prisoners, staff, and the public are waiting for the answer.

Sources: The Bradford County Telegraph; Gainesville Sun; Florida Times-Union; Tallahassee Democrat; St. Petersburg Times; First Coast News; Miami Herald; New York Times; Palm Beach Post; The Ledger; Orlando Sentinel; Florida Today; Associated Press; Herald Tribune; Los Angles Times; News Journal Online;

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