Charges filed in South Texas prison smuggling ring

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Associated Press

Posted on February 27, 2013 at 10:32 AM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 27 at 10:32 AM

HOUSTON (AP) — More than a dozen corrections officers are among those charged with taking bribes and participating in a scheme that supplied inmates at a South Texas prison with illegal cellphones, tobacco and drugs, according to a newly unsealed federal indictment.

The scheme was traced back to at least January 2005, and involved bribes of as much as $1,400 at a prison in Beeville, about 85 miles south of San Antonio, investigators allege. The indictment lists 30 individual racketeering acts and said inmates would solicit prison workers and used cellphones to coordinate the scheme.

The indictment names 32 people, including at least two inmates, other Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees and people referred to as "facilitators." They face charges ranging from conspiracy to racketeering.

"The employees abused their positions of trust as employees of the TDCJ by engaging in illegal activities for the purpose of enriching themselves," the indictment states, adding that the suspects were responsible for "creating a culture of corruption inside and outside the prison that would allow them to continue the racketeering activity, to protect and expand the enterprise's criminal operations."

Texas prison spokesman Jason Clark referred questions to the U.S. attorney's office in Houston, where spokeswoman Angela Dodge declined comment. She said details would be announced Wednesday at a news conference in Corpus Christi.

It was unclear if those charged included any current prison system employees.

The 23-page indictment was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Corpus Christi but not unsealed until Monday. KGBT-TV in Harlingen reported that several defendants began appearing in courts Tuesday.

A $1,400 bribe was paid to an officer in 2008 to pass a prohibited cellphone to an inmate, while marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine, along with tobacco products also barred from state prisons, were smuggled into the prison, according to the indictment. The four people described as "facilitators" procured the illegal substances and cellphones, and paid the bribes in a "pattern of racketeering activity," according to the document.

It was not immediately clear how many people named in the indictment had been arrested, but at least one, from Brownsville, was taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs officers.

The McConnell Unit outside Beeville has a capacity of 2,900 inmates. It's long been among the most troublesome for illegal cellphone use in Texas' 155,000-inmate prison system. The unit has been slated to be one of the first Texas prisons to get an electronic system designed to intercept and block unauthorized communications.

The problem of contraband phones in prisons was illustrated about five years ago when a Texas death row inmate made threatening calls to a state senator.

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Information from: KGBT-TV, http://www.valleycentral.com

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