‘Prison empire’ investigation leads to 100 suspects indicted on drug trafficking charges

Updated: Mar. 8, 2021 at 6:31 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina officials say contraband cell phones in prison have allowed inmates to run an “empire” of drug trafficking throughout the state.

Monday, Attorney General Alan Wilson announced a state indictment of about 100 defendants, 10 of whom are currently incarcerated in the South Carolina Department of Corrections.

The “Prison Empire” collectively contains 487 charges alleged within 297 counts.

One of the defendants, in this case, was a paralegal at a law firm accused of smuggling drugs into jail using “hollowed out documents in legal mail.”

The investigation so far has led to the seizure of large amounts of narcotics and weapons, including:

  • about 20 kilograms of methamphetamine (44 pounds)
  • 5 kilos of heroin (11 pounds)
  • 1.5 kilograms of cocaine (more than 3 pounds)
  • 82 firearms

This “prison empire” network is responsible for trafficking more than 1,000 kilos of meth throughout South Carolina, officials said.

Most of the drugs allegedly being trafficked were meth and heroin, but there are also fentanyl, marijuana, and other charges.

The investigation revealed alleged gang activity among the conspirators as well as Mexican sources of supply for narcotics.

At least two defendants who are currently inmates were allegedly found in possession of cell phones and meth when they were rounded up for their bond hearings.

Indictments also allege related crimes such as burglary and kidnapping carried out in retaliation for an outstanding drug debt.

Some of the indictments related to this investigation are sealed. Here is a list of all of the open indictments:

The director of SCDC and AG Wilson point to this case as a reason to allow the state to jam cell phone signals at prisons.

“This is one more tragic example of the damage illegal cell phones do in the hands of inmates,” SCDC Director Bryan Stirling said. “The public would be safer if we were able to block cell phone signals. It is past time for Congress to act and allow states to jam cell phone signals inside prisons. We need a hearing on this important public safety issue.”

Stirling and Wilson are calling on South Carolina congressmen to hold a hearing and change the cell phone laws.

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