Federal indictment names 32 in Texas prison smuggling scheme

Posted Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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HOUSTON -- 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 solicited 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 23-page indictment was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Corpus Christi but not unsealed until Monday.

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" are accused of procuring the illegal substances and cellphones, and paying the bribes.

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. 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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