Fla. corrections employees arrested in drug sting

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A lengthy FBI sting has exposed a ring of cocaine and contraband smuggling that was protected by corrupt guards and even a drug counselor in two Florida prisons, state and federal prosecutors said Thursday.

The investigation began two years ago when undercover FBI agents acting on a tip approached the officers for help trafficking drugs. In exchange for cash, the officers agreed to use their positions to protect, hide and facilitate cocaine shipments, according to a grand jury indictment against 16 of the 22 arrested.

An FBI SWAT team carried out the arrests simultaneously Thursday at the Glades facility and nearby South Bay jail. At least 18 are former corrections officers, according to state and federal officials. All have been fired.

“We cannot allow those involved in the administration of justice at any level to misuse their positions to line their own pockets,” said Jeffrey Sloman U.S. Attorney for Florida’s Southern District.

The 16 in federal court are charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and attempting to possess cocaine. The State Attorney’s Office in Palm Beach County is pursuing charges of bribery and conspiracy to introduce contraband into prisons against the remaining six.

The indictment from “Operation Blind Justice” alleges that on at least nine occasions, the defendants transported what they believed to be multiple kilos of cocaine from Miami to West Palm Beach. Prosecutors wouldn’t say exactly what was in the packages or what happened to them upon delivery.

In exchange, the guards collectively received $145,000, with individuals earning anywhere from $5,000 and $33,000 apiece, Sloman said.

It was just the most recent in a string of federal corruption arrests throughout South Florida, tangling up politicians ranging from the county commission to school board. John Gillies, special agent in charge of the local FBI branch, said fighting such abuses of power was their top criminal priority.

Drugs are a particular scourge in Florida prisons, Corrections Secretary Walter McNeil said, because they inspire aggression against guards and other inmates.

“Our best defense against drugs in our institutions is the eyes and ears of our employees – the officers working in the institution,” McNeil said. “In this case the problem involved our staff, but I want you to know that in this case they were also the solution.”

source:

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/florida/AP/story/1474950.html

2 Putnam corrections officers charged in fraud scheme

Two Putnam County corrections officers found themselves behind bars Thursday night after being charged in an insurance fraud scheme, a Sheriff’s Office news release said this morning.

Anthony Harris, 36, is charged with insurance fraud and obstruction of justice. He was booked into the jail on $1,500 bail. Timothy David Chisholm, 30, is charged with obstruction of justice. He was sent to jail on $500 bail.

The Sheriff’s Office said Chisholm reported finding that a Dodge truck belonging to Harris was missing from in front of Harris’ San Mateo home Jan. 24. The vehicle was reported stolen and found destroyed by fire in Marion County on Jan. 29.

Detectives found inconsistencies in stories told by the men. The investigation also found that Harris was behind on his truck payments and that the truck was destroyed by arson.

Harris and Chisholm “were actively involved in the intentional setting fire to Harris’ truck so Harris could fraudulently collect insurance payment,” the news release said.

Putnam Sheriff Jeff Hardy called having to arrest the two men a “sad day.”

“It’s very disheartening when two people you have entrusted with such responsibility are accused of such serious crimes,” Hardy said.

Both men have beenfired from the Sheriff’s Office, where they’d worked since 2005.

Harris’ wife Pamela Harris, a records supervisor with the department for 20 years, was fired Friday. She had not been arrested as of Friday evening, but police want the State Attorney’s Office to charge her with obstruction of justice and as an accessory to insurance fraud.

source:

http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/crime/2010-02-05/story/2_putnam_corrections_officers_charged_in_fraud_scheme?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+JacksonvillecomNews+%28Jacksonville+Local+News+%E2%80%93+Jacksonville.com+and+The+Florida+Times-Union%29

Jail guard charged with touching female inmates

ORLANDO, Fla. — An Orange County Jail corrections officer is being investigated after female inmates accused him of inappropriately touching them.

Jail officials report that 53-year-old Michael Russell Combs will be on administrative leave with pay until the Orange County Sheriff’s Office concludes its criminal investigation. Combs was arrested Monday and charged with two counts of battery. He was released on bail later that day.

According to a sheriff’s office report, Combs admitted to patting two women on their butts and other inappropriate touching but insisted he was only trying to encourage the inmates.

Jail officials will continue an internal review once the sheriff’s office has finished its criminal investigation.

source: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/florida/AP/story/1397000.html

CORRECTIONS OFFICER ARRESTED FOR BATTERING PREGNANT WIFE

At approximately 2:55 p.m. deputies responded to a Marion County Sheriff’s corrections officer’s residence in reference to a domestic battery. CO Anthony Votta reported that he had battered his wife who is four months pregnant. The incident allegedly began over a verbal altercation. The victim did not require medical attention.

Votta has worked for the Sheriff’s Office since 06-30-03. He will be placed on unpaid leave pending an internal investigation.

source: http://www.marionso.com/mediarelease.php?id=09095

Jail worker resigns — before he’s fired

An Osceola County Jail worker taken hostage at gunpoint during an escape attempt last June resigned recently rather than be fired.

Corrections Officer Gerson Roche said he quit after supervisors singled him out for endangering the lives of co-workers in a chronically understaffed jail.

Although the 15-year officer admitted he failed to follow safety rules, the county has not disclosed anything about the jail’s security failures. Officials have declined to discuss how a loaded pistol and two cell phones were smuggled inside the walls for the attempted escape June 22. Continue reading

Ex-officer sentenced for scalding inmate

A former Florida State Prison corrections officer, convicted earlier this year of throwing scalding water on an inmate, was sentenced Monday to three years in prison in a federal court in Jacksonville, the U.S. Department of Justice reported.

Paul Tillis, 44, had been convicted in January on a federal civil rights charge related to assaulting an inmate, according to the federal agency. His prison sentence will be followed by two years of post-release supervision.

Tillis had been accused of pouring the hot water, which was between 159 and 180 degrees, on inmate Jerry Williams’ chest, causing second-degree burns, prosecutors said. The incident occurred in August 2005. At the time, Williams was fabricating a suicide attempt so he could be transferred to a psychological treatment facility, according to the DOJ. Continue reading

Prison guard from Miramar arrested on cocaine smuggling charge

A prison guard from Miramar was locked up Wednesday after sheriff’s deputies arrested him for allegedly planning to smuggle a large amount of cocaine and marijuana into the Everglades Correctional Institute.

Shamel Watson, 30, was charged with drug trafficking, conspiracy to introduce drugs into a correctional facility and bribery, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.

Authorities began monitoring Watson in May after a tip from a confidential informant. Officers learned more about Watson’s alleged crime after eavesdropping on an inmate’s telephone call in which he allegedly laid out the conspiracy. Continue reading