COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Contraband is finding its way into South Carolina prisons with the help of cell phones.
Last week, 17 people were charged after an investigation into lucrative and sophisticated smuggling schemes dating back to October 2017.
Creighton Waters, the State Grand Jury Division Chief said, “You have to give credit where credit is due. It’s horribly illegal and we’re going to prosecute it to the fullest extent of the law.”
When state officials announced Operation Cash Cow they unsealed indictments that showed the ways inmates were receiving and distributing contraband.
Waters said, “The ability to get contraband into a prison is limited only by the ingenuity of the inmates and the willingness of those on the outside to help.”
Officials say one of the supposed ringleaders of these schemes is Baraka Ramos. They say he helped organize the smuggling of the items in through bakery deliveries.
The indictments say inmates working in the food warehouse at Goodman Correctional Institution would sneak boxes of contraband left near a Columbia bakery onto delivery trucks before they returned to prison.
The South Carolina Department of Corrections says they have already made changes to their protocol. “We used to have the inmates at the warehouse as a learning thing. We realized through this investigation and others. We’ll have employees there now,” Director Bryan Stirling said.
Another inmate already behind bars, Anthony Pyatt was instrumental in organizing the contraband smuggling scheme at the dairy facilities at Wateree River Correctional Institution.
Indictments show people on the outside would leave duffle bags full of banned items around the dairy and farm facilities. Inmates working there would pick up these bags and distribute the contraband by hiding .
They used a color scheme to tell which portion of the contraband would go where.
Waters said, “Ultimately they used the South Carolina Department of Corrections’ food distribution network to distribute this contraband and they could get contraband in one system no matter how high the security level.
Corrections officials say they have new taller fences, technology to alert prison workers if there are drones nearby, and will be rolling out new body scanners.
But they said it’s all about the cell phones. “Until we stop these cell phones you’re going to continue to see this happening.”