80 at Maryland prison indicted in 'deeply rooted' smuggling ring

SALISBURY, Md. — A federal grand jury has indicted 80 defendants in two separate indictments for a racketeering conspiracy operating at the Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

The indictments charge 18 correctional officers, 35 inmates and 27 outside “facilitators,” for their roles in the conspiracy, which allegedly involved paying bribes to correctional officers to smuggle contraband, including narcotics, tobacco, and cellphones, into the prison. The indictments were returned on Sept. 29, unsealed Wednesday and provided by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Maryland.

“Prison corruption is a longstanding, deeply-rooted systemic problem that can only be solved by a combination of criminal prosecutions and policy changes,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein in a news release Wednesday. “We will continue to work closely with state officials to prosecute correctional officers who bring cell phones, drugs and other contraband into correctional facilities, and to propose appropriate changes in prison policies and practices.”

“Few things threaten our society more than public servants who betray their oath for personal gain,” said Special Agent in Charge Gordon B. Johnson of the FBI's Baltimore Division. “It was extremely courageous of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to allow the access required to conduct this type of investigation. The state of Maryland and the FBI together have made this community safer.”

“After taking office last year, I assigned eight investigators to work directly with the federal agencies to root out corruption, which is my chief priority,” said Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Stephen T. Moyer.  “Today’s actions, which are a result of the extraordinary partnership of the DPSCS Investigative Unit, the FBI, and our other state and federal partners, send a strong message that we will no longer tolerate corruption committed by a few tarnishing the good work of our 10,500 dedicated and committed department employees.”

“Today’s arrests by Postal Inspectors and our law enforcement partners serve as a warning to street criminals and corrupt public servants that the nation’s mail system is not a tool for use by those who traffic in drugs and illegal contraband,” said Postal Inspector in Charge Terrence P. McKeown of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service - Washington Division.

According to the indictments, the Eastern Correctional Institution is the largest state prison in Maryland, operating since 1987 near Westover, in Somerset County, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. ECI is a medium-security prison for men built as two identical compounds (East and West) on 620 acres, and housing more than 3,300 inmates. The East and West Compounds are further divided into Housing Units, 1 through 4 in the West and 5 through 8 in the East.

The first indictment covers the west compound and charges a total of 39 defendants, including nine officers, 17 inmates, and 13 outside suppliers or “facilitators.”  The second indictment covers the east compound and charges a total of 41 defendants, including nine officers, 18 inmates and 14 facilitators.

The indictments allege that officers accepted payments from facilitators and/or inmates, or engaged in sexual relations with inmates, to smuggle in contraband, including narcotics, cell phones and tobacco.  The “going rate” for an officer to smuggle contraband into ECI was $500 per package. According to the indictments, inmates and facilitators paid officers for smuggled contraband in cash, money orders, and through PayPal. Inmates were able to use contraband cell phones to pay officers directly using PayPal from within the prison. Inmates also received payments from other inmates for contraband through PayPal, often with the assistance of facilitators.

The indictments allege that the defendants conspired to smuggle and traffic in narcotics including heroin; cocaine; MDMA, commonly referred to as “molly” or ecstasy; buprenorphine, commonly referred to as “Suboxone,” a prescription opioid used to treat heroin addiction; marijuana and synthetic cannabinoids (otherwise known as “K2”), and other contraband, including cell phones, pornographic videos and tobacco, in order to expand their criminal operations.  The profits made by the inmates by selling contraband in the prison far exceeded the profits that could be made by selling similar items on the street.  For example, defendant inmates could purchase Suboxone strips for $3 each and sell them inside the prison for $50 each.

According to the indictments, although officers and other prison employees were required to pass through security screening at the prison's entrance, defendant officers were able to hide contraband on their persons.  Officers took breaks during their shifts and returned to their cars to retrieve contraband. Once the officers had the smuggled contraband inside the facility, they delivered it to inmates in their cells; private offices within each housing unit where an inmate clerk worked; the officer’s dining room where officers could interact with inmate servers and kitchen workers; and pre-arranged “stash” locations like staff bathrooms, storage closets, laundry rooms and other places where contraband could be hidden and then later retrieved by inmates.

The indictment alleges that defendant inmates who had jobs that allowed them to move throughout the prison, commonly referred to as “working men,” took orders for contraband from inmates, provided orders to officers and delivered contraband to inmates. The affidavits filed in support of the search warrants discuss an inmate who admitted paying officers $3,000 per week to smuggle. According to the west compound indictment, another inmate said he aimed to make $50,000 before he was released.

The defendants allegedly used cell phones to coordinate smuggling and trafficking and some shared a “dirty” phone among themselves. According to court documents, the conspirators rented post office boxes to send drugs and bribe payments to the officers.

The indictment alleges that officers warned inmates when the prison administration was planning cell searches so that the inmates could hide contraband or pass it to other inmates whose cells were not being searched. The officers also monitored inmates to determine if they were "snitching" about contraband smuggling. When officers learned that inmates were providing information to prison officials, they would allegedly try to prevent them from continuing or would alert defendant inmates so that they could retaliate against these inmates, sometimes violently.

According to the indictment, defendants used violence to obtain contraband once it was smuggled into the facility, to ensure that contraband paid for by an inmate was delivered to that inmate, and to retaliate against inmates who provided information to the prison administration or otherwise interfered with their activities.

Each defendant faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the racketeering conspiracy, and for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute drugs. Two correctional officers and two inmates from the west compound also face a maximum of 10 years in prison for deprivation of rights under color of law for allegedly participating in the stabbing of two inmates in separate incidents. Initial appearances for the correctional officers and facilitators arrested Wednesday are being held in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. The inmates charged in the indictments will have initial appearances at a later date.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday released the following statement: “The indictments announced today are a clear victory in the fight against corruption, and I want to thank all the hardworking federal and state law enforcement officers whose tireless dedication and sacrifice made it possible. Under this administration, Maryland will remain unafraid to target corruption and criminal behavior of all kinds.”


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