Five former prison guards convicted in federal court on criminal charges stemming from a sex-for-contraband scandal at the Federal Correctional Institute (FCI) in Tallahassee, Florida have been sentenced; four received prison terms.
When federal agents arrived at FCI Tallahassee on June 21, 2006, they expected to quietly arrest six federal prison guards on charges related to their having sex with female prisoners at the facility, usually in exchange for contraband such as jewelry, free-world bras, gum, perfume, makeup and cigars. Another aspect of the scheme involved prisoners? relatives mailing money orders to the guards to pay for the contraband. The guards listened in on the prisoners? phone calls and threatened any who tried to reveal the conspiracy.
Instead of an uneventful arrest, however, the federal agents became embroiled in a gun battle with one of the guards, Ralph Hill, who had smuggled a personal firearm into the prison. The gunfire left Hill and Special Agent William Sentner dead and a prison lieutenant wounded. [See: PLN Oct. 2006, pp. 12-13].
Five other guards, Gregory Dixon, Alan Moore, E. Lavon Spence, Alfred Barnes and Vincent Johnson, were arrested. Johnson, Barnes and Spence pleaded guilty to mail fraud on September 6, 14 and October 3, 2006, respectively. Spence and Barnes also admitted to having sex with prisoners in exchange for contraband, while Johnson claimed he only pressured a prisoner not to cooperate with investigators.
On November 3, 2006, Dixon was convicted by a jury on three counts of bribery and conspiracy to accept illegal gratuities. The same jury convicted Moore of tampering with a witness, conspiracy to accept illegal gratuities and accepting an illegal gratuity.
During the trial, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle dismissed the most serious charges against Moore and Dixon, and the jury acquitted both of conspiracy to commit bribery.
The deadly events of June 21, 2006 led to the installation of metal detectors at FCI Tallahassee that guards must now pass through an X-ray machine to screen their bags. Any searching of federal prison guards had previously been strongly resisted by the guards? union, which still opposes searching guards for contraband.
Dan Bethea ? a Council of Prison Locals representative for the union with about 33,000 federal prison employees as members ? said that the problems at FCI Tallahassee were no worse than those at any other federal prison. He may be right; as of March 31, 2007, the U.S. Dept. of Justice was investigating 254 cases involving bribery, sexual abuse and other misconduct by federal prison guards nationwide.
It is a federal crime punishable by up to fifteen years in prison for a federal guard to have sex with a prisoner. However, as previously reported in PLN, federal prosecutors rarely file felony charges against federal prison guards who rape the prisoners in their custody. Consent is not a defense. In this case, the mail fraud and bribery-related charges were apparently more severe than those involving the sexual abuse of prisoners under the guards? supervision, which were only misdemeanors at the time the offenses occurred.
Women prisoners were first held at FCI Tallahassee in 1996. Reports of guards having sex with female prisoners, guards raping prisoners and sexual harassment by male guards of prisoners and female guards were numerous and publicly go back as far as 2002. Unfortunately, such complaints were largely ignored and rarely investigated. Adele Ridolf, a former prisoner who spent several years at the facility and who tried to report abuse, said prison officials ?brushed everything under the carpet.?
The five former FCI Tallahassee guards were sentenced in January and February 2007; all received one year in prison and three years probation except for Spence, who had suffered a stroke and was sentenced to a year of home detention and three years probation. Barnes, Johnson and Dixon are currently serving time in federal prison; Moore, who proclaimed his innocence, is free on bond pending an appeal.
Moore?s attorney, Robert Harper, Sr., said ?This was not a unique prosecution,? and, referring to the sexual abuse of prisoners, stated, ?The underlying conduct is something we?ve seen before.? Unfortunately he?s correct ? and absent serious investigations and aggressive prosecutions of abusive prison guards, it?s something we?ll see again.
Sources: Tallahassee Democrat, badcopnews.com, Miami Herald, Associated Press, msnbc.com, www.sptimes.com, Orlando Sentinel
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