Crime & Courts

Federal Indictments Issued In Another South Carolina Jailhouse Racket

Once again, contraband cell phones are facilitating criminal activity …

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A federal grand jury has handed down a 51-count indictment against nine inmates of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) – and six other individuals – in connection with a multi-million dollar scheme to defraud state and federal taxpayers of Covid-19 unemployment benefits.

According to a news release from the office of U.S. attorney Adair Ford Boroughs, from March 2020 through December 2020 the inmates “engaged in a scheme to fraudulently obtain various COVID-19 unemployment benefits” administered through the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce (SCDEW) “and through Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Nevada, New Jersey, Missouri, Arizona, and California.”

These inmates “conspired and coordinated with other inmates and friends and relatives outside of SCDC to submit unemployment claims to SCDEW using the Personal Identification Information (PII) of both inmates in SCDC and individuals outside the prison system.”

This personal identification information was allegedly “harvested” and then used to apply for benefits.

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In some cases, individuals provided the information to the scammers willingly “in exchange for a portion of the proceeds derived from the unemployment benefits.” In other cases, though, inmates “had no knowledge that unemployment benefits were being applied for on their behalf,” according to federal prosecutors.

Even worse, some of the fraud was accomplished via “extortion schemes,” the feds alleged. As is so often the case in 21st century prison rackets, these schemes were carried out using contraband phones.

“Using contraband cellphones within SCDC, inmates posed as younger males or females and lured individuals to send them nude or compromising photos,” the release alleged. “After obtaining the photos, the inmates contacted the victims posing as law enforcement. The inmates then extorted the victims into sending them money and/or photos of their social security cards and driver’s licenses.”

Once the benefits were obtained (in the form of checks and prepaid debit cards), conspirators allegedly used “ATM withdrawals, wire transfers and mobile banking applications to make the proceeds available to the incarcerated defendants.”

All told, $5 million was stolen from taxpayers in connection with the scheme.

The indictments handed down are as follows:

  • Reginald Raynard White, Jr., an SCDC inmate, faces twenty counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud;
  • Christopher Ford, an SCDC inmate, faces one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud;
  • Marvin Lee Trotter, an SCDC inmate, faces two counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud;
  • Dawn Hall, of Kansas City, MO, faces ten counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud;
  • Benika Kershaw, Chester, SC, faces one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud;
  • Albert J. Cave, Jr., an SCDC inmate, faces one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud;
  • Jason Andrew Cash, an SCDC inmate, faces eight counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud;
  • Stepheno Lemain Alston, an SCDC inmate, faces seven counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud;
  • James Griffin, an SCDC inmate, faces five counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud;
  • John Travis Mace, an SCDC inmate, faces four counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud;
  • Ronald Gene Harvey, an SCDC inmate, faces four counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud;
  • Bridgette Cash, of Landrum, SC, faces one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud;
  • Latasha Alston, of St. Helena Island, SC, faces eight counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud;
  • Lori Robinson, of Monroe Township, NJ, faces one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud;
  • Jessica Howell, of Southport, NC,  faces one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Additional charges could be forthcoming as federal prosecutors indicated the investigation is “ongoing.”

“When people steal, they need to pay the price,” SCDC director Bryan Stirling said. “These inmates were already serving time for committing crimes. Now they will be held accountable for stealing from taxpayers.”

Stirling has been an impassioned advocate for jamming phone signals in prisons. So has S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson. And so was former U.S. attorney (and current U.S. district court judge) Sherri Lydon. After some initial reservations, this news outlet endorsed jamming cell phone signals as part of our expansive vision for prison reform back in November 2017.

Clearly it needs to happen sooner rather than later …

As with anyone accused of committing any crime, all of the defendants named above are considered innocent until proven guilty by our criminal justice system – or until such time as they may wish to enter some form of allocution in connection with a plea agreement with prosecutors related to any of the charges filed against them.

How much time are they facing? Wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud each carry a penalty of up to thirty years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000,000 – per count.

SCDC, the United States Secret Service and the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) investigated this case. Assistant U.S. attorneys Winston Holliday and Scott Matthews will handle the prosecutions.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.

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