More than a dozen people have been charged in what prosecutors say was a “sophisticated, elaborate” network to smuggle contraband through inmates working outside prison walls.
The State Grand Jury issued 69 indictments against 17 individuals involved in various schemes to smuggle cigarettes, drugs and cell phones through the prison’s food trucks, work programs and fence “throwovers.”
“These indictments allege there was an extensive, sophisticated and very lucrative black market for contraband within the prison system here in South Carolina,” State Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a Friday press conference.
The indictments say the network’s leaders arranged for friends and family members outside the prison to supply the contraband at drop sites. Other inmates on work details would then pick up the material and smuggle it back into the prison. One of the bolder examples cited by the indictments included contraband intentionally left inside trash cans on the Statehouse grounds. Inmates who do landscaping work at the Capitol would then pick up the material and bring it back into Department of Corrections facilities.
Prosecutors also said inmates working at the Wateree Correctional Institution’s dairy farm in Sumter County would arrange for outsiders to leave the contraband at a remote location on the farm. With few correctional officers watching the work, the inmates would then place some of the contraband inside small capsules and hide it inside their rectums during the return inside Wateree. Most of the material, however, was placed with milk sent to other prison facilities.
A similar arrangement occurred at the Corrections Department bakery at Goodman Correctional Institution, which supplied bread to prisons statewide. The indictments say inmates assisting the agency truck drivers would sneak into the truck other boxes containing contraband which had been left adjacent to the loading area.
“The contraband can command high prices in the prisons, and prices go up as the security level of the institution increases,” the indictment stated. “For example, in a low level prison even a small medicine “cap” of tobacco can bring as much as $25. Cell phones can bring hundreds if not thousands of dollars.”
The indictments name inmates Baraka Ramos and Anthony Pyatt as two of the operation’s ringleaders. Indictments accuse Ramos of helping organize both the Wateree and Goodman smuggling, while Pyatt was involved with the dairy farm. Ramos had been serving a 15-year sentence for drug trafficking since 2008 and was projected to be released next week, according to a Corrections Department database. Pyatt had been in state custody since 2002 on a variety of assault and battery charges, among other offenses.
Prison officials said the network was arranged with the help of illegal cell phones operating inside the prisons. They urged the federal government to allow phone signal jamming inside state prisons.