Under the Official Code of Georgia § 42-5-18, it is unlawful to give an incarcerated GA DOC inmate a cellular telephone and it is unlawful for a GA DOC inmate to possess a cellular telephone while incarcerated. According to U.S. Attorney John A. Horn, since September 2015, 75 people have been charged with criminal conduct that was initiated from within state prisons. Yesterday, it was released that over 50 individuals from the Jimmy Autry State Prison (“Autry”), a medium security prison, located in Pelham, Georgia were charged with conspiring to commit wire fraud, conspiring to commit money laundering, and accepting bribes to smuggle contraband, namely cellular and smart phones, into Georgia prisons. Those charged included 15 current or former Autry correctional officers, 19 current or former GA DOC inmates, and 17 individuals have been charged by the grand jury in the fraud and bribery schemes.
According to the indictments inmates allegedly used contraband cellular telephones from inside Autry to access Internet websites to identify the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of potential fraud victims. To make the calls seem real, the inmates created fictitious voice mail greetings on their contraband cellular telephones, identifying themselves as members of legitimate law enforcement agencies. Potential victims were falsely told that they had unlawfully failed to appear for jury duty; failed to appear for jury duty and a warrant was issued for their arrest; or had a choice between being arrested or paying a fine to get arrest warrant dismissed. For those victims who wanted to pay the fine, they were instructed to purchase pre-paid cash cards and provide the account number of the cash card or wire money directly into a pre-paid debit card account held by the inmates. After a victim provided an inmate with an pre-paid cash card account number, the inmate would call his co-conspirator on the outside and tell them to transfer the money to a pre-paid debit card, the co-conspirators then laundered the stolen money by purchasing a new cash card so that the victims’ funds could be transferred back to the inmates.
It has been found that correctional officers or other prison employees have been guilty of smuggling cell/smart phones in to the prisons for inmates to use which has created a risk to prison security and to public safety. Between 2014 to 2015, GA DOC officials seized more than 23,500 cellular telephones from inside Georgia state prisons. The latest indictments also alleged that correctional officers smuggled other contraband into Autry, such as tobacco products and drugs in exchange for bribes. This issue is being addressed with FBI investigations and the Georgia Department of Corrections Office of Professional Standards. J. Britt Johnson, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, stated that prisons should be a deterrent for individuals on both sides of its walls, the acquiring of cell phones only emboldens current and former inmates and their associates to continue to engage in criminal conduct.