Massive South Carolina Prison Bust Targets Drug Traffickers Using Contraband Phones

“Prison Empire” nabs more than fifty defendants ..

More than four dozen defendants were charged this week in connection with a massive South Carolina jailhouse drug bust dubbed “Prison Empire.” The arrests – announced by the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson – are linked to an alleged drug ring said to have been operated by “current and former inmates” at the S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC).

According to a release from Wilson’s office, the ring was run “though the use of contraband cell phones in South Carolina prisons,” with SCDC inmates working in cooperation with “their confederates on the outside.”

Sound familiar? It should. A year ago, federal officials broke up another criminal enterprise orchestrated by SCDC prisoners using contraband cell phones – a “sextortion” scam targeting members of the military.

“Most of the drugs allegedly being traffick(ed) in the case were methamphetamine, but there are also cocaine and marijuana charges in the case as well,” the release noted. “Additionally, there are a number of firearms and weapons charges associated with the alleged drug trafficking, as well as burglary, kidnapping, and related charges from an incident allegedly ordered from prison because of nonpayment of a drug debt.”

A total of 54 defendants were charged in connection with the bust, including thirteen current SCDC inmates and eight former SCDC inmates. All told, 194 charges were filed by Wilson’s office.

“The only way prison inmates are able to keep committing crimes on the outside is by using contraband cell phones,” Wilson said in a statement. “They coordinate with people on the outside to get drugs and smuggle them into prisons. This market for contraband inside our prisons has contributed to gang power, gang rivalries, and gang violence within our prisons, and also contributes to violence on the outside by those who are involved.”

“Prison Empire” will no doubt revive the debate over the jamming of cell phone signals in South Carolina’s correctional facilities – which has been a focus of U.S. attorney Sherri Lydon and SCDC director Bryan Stirling. Lydon – whose office brought down the “sextortion” ring – has made jamming cell phone signals a centerpiece of her efforts to crack down on violent crime both inside and outside of South Carolina prisons.

She has also praised Stirling – who in turn applauded the “Prison Empire” operation.

(Click to view)

(Via: Global Research)

“An illegal cell phone is the most dangerous weapon in our prisons today,” Stirling said in a statement. “We are grateful to all of our law enforcement partners and the state grand jury for helping bring these cases forward and highlighting the serious issue of cell phones in prisons.”

Why can’t South Carolina prisons jam cell phone signals? Because they are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – and as we noted in a story last fall, prepaid phones and prepaid phone minutes constitute a multi-billion dollar annual industry, one that encompasses virtually all extra-legal prison usage.

Wireless providers aren’t about to surrender that market without a fight, and while jamming signals is obviously not a panacea for ending violence inside (or outside of) prisons – we would argue it is time to give it a try in the Palmetto State. After some initial reservations, we endorsed jamming cell phone signals as part of our expansive vision for prison reform back in November 2017.

“Contraband cell phones are not the cause of violence in South Carolina’s prisons … but their ubiquitousness is clearly facilitating the violence, and the only argument we’ve heard against jamming cell phone signals is that it might impede wireless service in surrounding areas,” we wrote at the time.

On another front, arraignments in connection with this case began on Thursday, November 7, 2019 and continued into Friday before S.C. circuit court judge DeAndrea Benjamin – one of several Palmetto State judges who has been criticized in the past for showing undeserved leniency to violent offenders.

Hopefully, Benjamin will handle these cases by the book …

Obviously, all if those individuals charged in connection with this operation are innocent until proven guilty by our criminal justice system, or until such time as they may wish to enter a plea in connection with any of the charges filed against them.



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