Corruption Called Rampant in South Carolina Prisons

COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) — Two weeks after a prison riot left seven people dead in South Carolina, 14 former prison employees appeared in court in shackles Wednesday to face federal corruption charges.

The criminal charges include bribery, smuggling and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. U.S. Attorney Beth Drake said Wednesday that inmates used cellphones in the prison to direct crimes in local communities and traffic drugs across state lines.

The 14 former employees include a nurse, ground workers and food service workers: None were corrections officers. They face state and federal charges and all entered not guilty pleas in their Wednesday court appearances. Their attorneys told the press that the federal charges were “unnecessary,” as they already face state charges.

Seven inmates bled to death on April 16 in a riot that apparently began over contraband in the maximum security prison in Lee County.

As an example of the corruption, Drake cited inmate Michael Young, who was convicted last year of using a cellphone from inside prison to try to assassinate his ex-wife for a second time. He already had been sentenced to 50 years for murdering her father and attempting to murder her.

“Michael Young used a cellphone to access the dark web and purchase a mail bomb. He had it shipped to an individual in Columbia who triggered it and attempted to send it to her,” Drake said. “This is an excellent example of what inmates can do with cellphones.”

Young was not among the 14 people charged Wednesday.

Drake detailed another case in which an inmate was convicted of using a cellphone on the dark web to arrange marijuana to be shipped from California to South Carolina.

“South Carolina is facing a contraband crisis that affects the safety of the community and the institutions,” the U.S. attorney said.

Commonly smuggled contraband includes marijuana, methamphetamines, cocaine, spice, alcohol, tobacco, cellphones and food.

Half of the 14 were charged with use of an interstate facility to conduct bribery, wire fraud conspiracy, and possession with intent to distribute narcotics. The others were not charged with narcotics violations.

The employees were from multiple prisons across the state, including Allendale, Lee, McCormick Broad River, Tiger River, Lieber and Perry.

FBI Agent Jody Norris said the federal corruption investigation is continuing.

“The message is very simple. If you are in a position of public trust and breaking the law, you can stop, or it can be you behind bars,” Norris said.

To fight smuggling in prisons the Department of Corrections is testing a system that will black cellphone use inside the prisons.

There has been a significant increase in police presence inside the prisons since the deadly riot.

Here are the 14 people charged Wednesday, and the federal charges

Douglas Hawkins — use of interstate facility to facilitate bribery and honest services wire fraud conspiracy

Frank Pridgeon — use of interstate facility to facilitate bribery, honest services wire fraud conspiracy, and possession with intent to distribute narcotics

Sharon Breeland — use of interstate facility to facilitate bribery, honest services wire fraud conspiracy, and possession with intent to distribute narcotics

Shatara Wilson — use of interstate facility to facilitate bribery, honest services wire fraud conspiracy, and possession with intent to distribute narcotics

Rachel Burgess — use of interstate facility to facilitate bribery, honest services wire fraud conspiracy, and possession with intent to distribute narcotics

Miguel Williams — use of interstate facility to facilitate bribery and honest services wire fraud conspiracy

James Harvey — use of interstate facility to facilitate bribery and honest services wire fraud conspiracy

Darnell Kleckley — use of interstate facility to facilitate bribery, honest services wire fraud conspiracy, and possession with intent to distribute narcotics

Joshua Cave — use of interstate facility to facilitate bribery and honest services wire fraud conspiracy

Camille Williams — use of interstate facility to facilitate bribery and honest services wire fraud conspiracy

Jamal Early — use of interstate facility to facilitate bribery, honest services wire fraud conspiracy, and possession with intent to distribute narcotics

Catherine Prosser —- use of interstate facility to facilitate bribery, honest services wire fraud conspiracy, and possession with intent to distribute narcotics

Holly Mitchem — use of interstate facility to facilitate bribery and honest services wire fraud conspiracy

Robert Hill — use of interstate facility to facilitate bribery, honest services wire fraud conspiracy, and possession with intent to distribute narcotics.

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