Forty-nine correctional officers from Georgia – both former and current officers – were arrested and indicted this week in a multi-agency drug sting. Dubbed by FBI investigators as “Operation Ghost Guard,” the scope of the two-year investigation covered nine Georgia prisons and over four dozen employees. Charges ranged from accepting bribes, aiding inmates to commit felonies, smuggling contraband and using their position as law enforcement officers to arrange, and then shelter, drug deals initiated by inmates.
A statement released on the FBI’s website Feb. 11 read: “The FBI’s Atlanta Division today announced the results of an investigation into widespread public corruption within the Georgia prison system that uncovered extensive crimes carried out by inmates with the help of corrupt guards—crimes whose impact was felt well beyond prison walls.”
FBI Atlanta Special Agent in Charge J. Britt Johnson said their agency findings were “unprecedented” in scope. “While the vast majority of those working within Georgia’s correctional facilities are dedicated and loyal officers and employees,” Johnson said, “criminal and corrupt activities were found in 11 of the 35 state corrections facilities. Central to those illegal activities inside the prisons was the unbridled use of cell phones.”
Dozens of officers agreed to “sell their badges,” the FBI’s statement said, in order to engage in drug trafficking outside of the prison walls. Inmates arranged the deals, and officers accepted bribes to carry them out, then used their credentials to cover up the illegalities. The guards extorted huge sums from inmates and their families – up to $1,000 each – to smuggle in a cell phone to the prisoners. Those phones were then used to organize a multiplicity of crimes.
The FBI said that between 2014 and 2015, “more than 23,500 contraband phones were seized throughout Georgia prisons—which house 50,000 inmates—and those phones were used for a variety of crimes that put prison security and public safety at risk.”
John Horn, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said the FBI’s sting revealed “staggering corruption,” according to CNN.
“It is truly troubling that so many corrections officers from across the state of Georgia could be so willing to sell their oaths, to sell their badges, for personal profit — to benefit and protect purported drug transactions,” Horn said.
The crackdown on the Georgia correctional officers began last September, and thus far, a total of 130 individuals – current and former guards and prison employees, civilians and inmates – have been charged. FBI officials said one of the crimes committed by the inmates and guards was a rampant “jury scam” – smartphones provided by corrupt guards were used to make outcalls to advise people they missed mandated jury reporting and now must pay a fine.
Adds the Washington Post: “The inmates pretended to be law enforcement officials — going so far as to identify themselves as such in their voicemails — and told potential victims that they had to either pay fines for failing to appear in court or face arrest.”
“They sounded like deputies from a sheriff’s office,” one FBI agent said on the bureau’s website. “They were very sophisticated and believable.”
“Corruption is all about how much money can I make from my position,” said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Dan Odom.
The Georgia correctional officers will be arraigned later this month.