SC Prisoners Plead Guilty To Running Major Drug Operation, Kidnapping Scheme Behind Bars

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson says the operation was able to run for so long because of cellphones …

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced Tuesday that two prisoners — Nicanor Rodriguez and Anthony Gracely — have pleaded guilty to state grand jury charges in connection to a drug-trafficking organization that they founded and operated from September 2013 to May 2021, according to a news release issued by the state Attorney General’s Office.

This drug-trafficking organization mostly operated out of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, using contraband items, particularly cellular phones from within the prison system, the release stated. 

“This case highlights the dangers of illegal cell phones inside our prisons. Inmates used contraband phones to run a drug empire but also to kidnap a pregnant 18-year-old, which was planned by the inmates, ordered by phone, and carried out by people outside the prison,” Wilson said in the release.

Bryan Stirling, director of the S.C. Department of Corrections, said in the release: “I’m grateful they will be kept behind bars for a significant number of years, and I hope one day we will have the necessary legislation to allow state prisons to jam illegal cellphone signals.”

The state grand jury has issued indictments in two separate investigations (“Prison Empire” and “Graceland”) targeting this drug-trafficking organization, with more than 100 defendants, more than 500 charges and spanning numerous counties, the release stated.

Rodriguez is the founder, supplier and leader of the organization, according to the release. He pleaded guilty to the following charges:

  • Trafficking Methamphetamine, 400 grams or more (Conspiracy) (Greenville County)
  • Trafficking Methamphetamine, 400 grams or more (Conspiracy) (Greenville County)
  • Criminal Conspiracy (Edgefield County)
  • Kidnapping (Edgefield County)
  • Trafficking Cocaine, 400 grams or more (Conspiracy) (Greenville County)
  • Trafficking Methamphetamine, 200-400 grams (Lexington County)
  • Trafficking Methamphetamine, 400 grams or more (Conspiracy) (Pickens County)
  • Trafficking Heroin, 28 grams or more (Conspiracy) (Greenville County)

Rodriguez is incarcerated until 2041 for prior drug convictions, stemming from a previous state grand jury investigation and 2007 trial, according to the release.

On March 4, the Judge R. Lawton McIntosh sentenced Rodriguez to an additional 40 years for the charges above-referenced, which will be added to his existing sentence, the release states.

Gracely, Rodriguez’s “key co-conspirator within the prison system and primary contact for conspirators outside of the prison system,” pleaded guilty to four counts of Trafficking Methamphetamine and one count of Trafficking Heroin, the release states. Gracely will be sentenced at a future date.

The investigation into Rodriguez’s drug ring has seized:

  • About 20 kilograms of methamphetamine
  • 5 kilos of heroin
  • 1.5 kilograms of cocaine,
  • 82 firearms

Rodriguez and Gracely were SCDC inmates and housed near each other at the Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, according to the release.

The two coordinated the supply and distribution of illegal narcotics, and the collection of the proceeds, through the use of contraband cell phones smuggled into SCDC, the release states. 

“Rodriguez is the source of supply for Anthony Gracely, using said contraband cell phones to contact sources of supply from Mexico, Georgia and Texas. Rodriguez and Gracely conspired to establish not only sources of supply for the various illegal narcotics, but to also develop an integrated distribution network throughout South Carolina. Rodriguez was responsible for trafficking the illegal narcotics into South Carolina and arranging for the delivery of said narcotics to Gracely’s associates outside of the prison system. Gracely was then responsible for establishing the distribution network throughout South Carolina.”

During the plea, Rodriguez admitted and pleaded guilty to ordering two other co-defendants and alleged co-conspirators to kidnap the 18-year-old pregnant daughter of another alleged co-conspirator who owed Rodriguez a drug debt. This is alleged to have occurred on September 23, 2018, in Edgefield County, the release stated.

The case was investigated by the South Carolina State Grand Jury, which was assisted in this case by:

  • Attorney General’s State Grand Jury Division
  • South Carolina Law Enforcement Division,
  • South Carolina Department of Corrections’ Division of Police Services
  • Pickens County Sheriff’s Office
  • Greenville County Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit
  • Anderson County Sheriff’s Office
  • Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office
  • Edgefield County Sheriff’s Office
  • Lexington County Sheriff’s Office
  • Laurens County Sheriff’s Office
  • Easley Police Department
  • Liberty Police Department
  • Pickens Police Department
  • South Carolina Governor’s Counterdrug Task Force (a unit of the South Carolina National Guard)

The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Savanna Goude, Assistant Deputy Attorney General David A. Fernandez and State Grand Jury Division Chief Attorney S. Creighton Waters.

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