Contraband Smuggling a Problem at Prisons and Jails Nationwide
The smuggling of illicit items such as drugs, cigarettes and cell phones into prisons and jails continues to be a significant problem throughout the United States. Often the people doing the smuggling are guards or other corrections employees, who, motivated by greed, accept bribes from prisoners.
Prison and jail staff are not the only ones involved in contraband smuggling, though; prisoners and their outside contacts, including friends and family members, are sometimes prosecuted on contraband-related charges.
The following recent arrests and convictions across the nation are indicative of the scope of this problem.
Belinda Keith, a former training officer at the Bureau of Prisons FCI Talladega, was indicted on September 26, 2012 on charges of graft and smuggling contraband. She pleaded guilty in November 2012, admitting that between October 2010 and October 2011 she accepted thousands of dollars in bribes to bring 31 bags of tobacco into the prison. She has not yet been sentenced.
In September 2012, Nicoll Koval, 25, serving a year in jail for a fatal hit-and-run incident, pleaded guilty to helping an-other prisoner smuggle greeting cards soaked in liquid meth into the Las Colinas Detention Facility near San Diego. She was sentenced to four years in prison on the smuggling charge plus possession of marijuana and illegal prescription drugs while she was incarcerated at the jail.
Koval’s attorney had claimed that she was manipulated by “more sophisticated felons” into participating in the smuggling scheme.
State prison guard Arcolain Fountain, employed at the Cheshire Correctional Institution, was charged in federal court after he met with an undercover officer to receive 90 oxycodone pills, which he planned to smuggle into the facility. He pleaded guilty to the federal charges on December 18, 2012, and is scheduled to be sentenced in March 2013; he is also being prosecuted in state court.
District of Columbia
On December 14, 2012, Daishawn Goodson, 26, employed as a guard at the CCA-operated Correctional Treatment Facility in Washington, DC, pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge. Goodson admitted to twice accepting a $400 bribe to smuggle a thumb drive and $100 in cash to a prisoner in January 2012. She was arrested after receiving the second thumb drive and money from an undercover FBI agent. Goodson is scheduled to be sentenced on March 22, 2013; she has already agreed to a $1,000 forfeiture, and was released on her own recognizance.
In September 2012, 22 female prisoners at the St. Johns County Jail tested positive for Suboxone, an opiate used to treat heroin addiction. The drugs were traced back to one prisoner, Hana Marie Colson, 29, who now faces felony charges of receiving and distributing contraband.
An investigation by jail officials revealed that the Suboxone, in strip form, was concealed in envelopes mailed to Colson by one of her friends on the outside, Chelsey Marie Camerone. Camerone, 21, was charged on October 17, 2012 with smuggling contraband, possession of methamphetamine and probation violations.
A Fulton County sheriff’s deputy, three jail guards and three other people were arrested in June 2011 after the FBI uncovered a drug and contraband smuggling scheme.
Deputy Marvie Trevino Dingle, Jr., 34, and jail guards Akil Scott, 32, Derick Deshun Frazier, 31, and Brian Shelby Anthony, 31, were accused of conspiring to smuggle marijuana, cell phones, cigarettes and up to 15 kilos of cocaine into the Fulton County Jail. [See: PLN, March 2012, p.50].
Anthony was accused in a federal indictment of using his position to try to obtain $25,000 for providing protection for drug shipments. He was indicted along with three other people not employed at the jail – Aqeel Muhsin Rasheed, Keithan Henri James and Robert Lee Swain, Jr. – on 11 counts, including possession of cocaine and marijuana with intent to distribute, and extortion under color of official right.
“Some of these employees don’t know what side of the bars they belong on,” Sheriff Theodore Jackson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’re going to help them try to figure it out.”
Frazier was sentenced on January 11, 2012 to six months in prison, three months on house arrest and two years of supervised release. In March 2012, Scott was sentenced to 14 months on each of four counts, to run concurrent, plus two years of supervised release, while Anthony received 120 months and 4 years of supervised release. Dingle was sentenced on July 3, 2012 to 41 months plus 4 years of supervised release.
“This sends a strong message that corrupt activity will not be tolerated at the Fulton County Jail,” Jackson stated.
Former New Castle Correctional Facility guard Tralaina Stanley, 32, was arrested on September 1, 2012 and charged with a Class C felony count of trafficking with a prisoner. She is accused of bringing prescription medication, including oxycodone, into the prison; she was reportedly turned in by prisoners, and smuggled the drugs in her body cavities. She was booked into the Henry County jail.
Two staff members at the Vernon County jail, plus a prisoner and the prisoner’s girlfriend, were charged in September 2012 with smuggling marijuana into the facility. Jail employees James Tumm, 23, and Colby Prough, 39, were charged in connection with the September 8, 2012 delivery of marijuana to the jail; the amount of marijuana was not disclosed. Also facing felony criminal charges are prisoner Bob Beisly III, 38, and his girlfriend, Joanna Roberts, 28. Tumm and Prough were later fired.
A former federal prison guard, Job Brown, 39, was sentenced on September 20, 2012 to one year and one day in prison after pleading guilty to taking $3,600 in bribes to smuggle contraband into and out of FCI Fairton. Between January and March 2012, Brown accepted bribes to bring vitamin supplements and tobacco into the prison, and to take 900 postage stamps out of the facility. [See: PLN, Sept. 2012, p.50]. He was also sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit $3,600.
Over a six-week period in mid-2012, two Aramark food service employees were arrested for smuggling contraband into state prisons. Candace Holmes, 20, was busted on June 19, 2012 for attempting to bring cocaine and heroin into the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility in Las Cruces, and charged with six drug-related felonies. Then on July 29, 2012, Aramark worker Mel Baca was caught trying to smuggle food and a cell phone into the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility. Alcohol, prescription drugs and “about a 12-inch long knife” were found in Baca’s vehicle; he was charged with a fourth-degree felony for smuggling contraband.
On October 3, 2012, two guards at the GEO Group-owned Rivers Correctional Institution, a 1,450-bed facility that houses federal prisoners, were indicted on bribery charges.
Rhonda Boyd, 27, and Raye Lynn Holley, 49, were charged with smuggling contraband, including cell phones and cigarettes, into the facility. Boyd also faces a conspiracy to commit bribery charge.
Separately, on August 15, 2012, former FCC Butner guard Clyon Hinnant, 39, was sentenced to 4 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to taking bribes and conspiring to commit wire and mail fraud. Hinnant, who also must serve 3 years of supervised release, accepted payments to smuggle cigarettes and marijuana into the federal facility. Trina Richardson, a co-conspirator who received bribes from prisoners at FCC Butner and gave them to Hinnant, also pleaded guilty. She was sentenced to two years of supervised release.
William Reid, 51, a part-time guard at the Bedford Heights jail, was fired in August 2012 and charged with bribery and illegal conveyance into a detention facility. He reportedly confessed to accepting $1,000 to smuggle two cell phones to prisoner Damell Owens, 33. An Apple iPhone was found during a search of Owens’ cell; the other phone was found in a recreation area.
“This was someone that we trusted, we trusted him to work for us and then he turned around and he did something and basically, like I said, over and over, he jeopardized the safety of everybody back here,” said Assistant Chief David Leonardi.
Reid made $15.79 an hour at the jail, which may help explain why he was willing to accept a substantial bribe to smuggle the cell phones.
Former Richland County Correctional Institution employee Janine Varian-Fulton, 44, was charged in August 2012 after she was found trying to bring two footballs into the facility that contained pills, cigarettes, marijuana, cell phones and chargers. Sheriff’s officials said they thought she planned to toss the footballs over a fence around the recreation area. Varian-Fulton was released on a $10,000 personal recognizance bond.
On August 13, 2012, former USP Canaan federal prison guard Donald Lykon, 31, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and two years of supervised release for accepting over $5,000 in bribes to smuggle contraband into the facility. The contraband consisted of cell phones, marijuana and cigarettes; Lykon blamed a drug addiction for his actions. His wife, Kimberly, was charged with conspiracy in connection with the smuggling scheme and ordered to serve 5 months in prison.
At sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge James M. Munley said that contraband smuggling “eats away at the whole damn system,” and puts other prison staff at risk.
Three people, including a former guard, were arrested by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in October 2012 for smuggling contraband into the Maury County Jail; the arrests were the result of a joint investigation involving the Maury County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI. Derek Turner, 37, an officer at the jail, is accused of accepting bribes from two prisoners to smuggle drugs and other contraband into the facility.
The prisoners, James Pierce, 40, and Benajmin Bradley, 35, were also indicted, and Bradley’s mother and Pierce’s ex-girlfriend were arrested in connection with the smuggling scheme.
Former federal prison guard Keif Jackson, 49, was sentenced on September 13, 2012 to 12 months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to smuggle heroin into FCC Petersburg, where he was employed. According to federal officials, Jackson conspired with prisoner Walter Brooks, 57, to bring heroin into the facility from 2008 through October 2011. Brooks was released in 2010 but continued to assist Jackson with the smuggling scheme; Brooks was charged with numerous counts, including providing contraband to prisoners and conspiracy to distribute heroin, and was sentenced on September 10, 2012 to 20 years in federal prison.
So long as prison and jail employees are relatively poorly paid, they have a financial incentive to accept bribes to smuggle contraband. However, we can note that even the well-paid prison employees are often corrupt as they seek to supplement their income through illegal means. Also, so long as prisoners are allowed only limited access to expensive telephone services, cell phones will continue to be a major factor in contraband smuggling. [See: PLN, Dec. 2012, p.22; March 2009, p.29]. Further, smoking bans have created a lucrative black market within prisons and jails by criminalizing tobacco products.
One strategy to combat contraband smuggling that is being implemented by some corrections officials is requiring all prison and jail employees to undergo searches when entering the facility. However, this has only a limited deterrent effect – especially if staff members search other staff members, given the pervasive nature not only of corruption but also of the tendency for employees to protect their co-workers.
Meanwhile, the fact that prisoners – even in maximum-security facilities – have access to smuggled cell phones, drugs and other forms of contraband is indicative of the failure of prohibitive practices such as smoking bans and “zero tolerance” policies.
Sources: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Associated Press, www.dailyjournal.net, Hanford Sentinel, www.thestarpress.com, www.therepublic.com, www.correctionsone.com, www.washingtonexaminer.com, www.wral.com, www.therepublic.com, www.timesnews.net, http://staugustine.com, www.justice.gov, www.digtriad.com, Huffington Post, www.joplinglobe.com, http://articles.philly.com, www.corspecops.com, www.poconorecord.com, www.nbcmiami.com, www.fox8.com, www.couriertimes.com