The federal government believes that Operation Prison Cell has helped to put an end to the "culture of corruption" at Beeville's McConnell Unit Prison.
Prosecutors announced the arrests of 17 prison guards accused of smuggling cell phones and drugs to inmates; prisoners who would then continue directing gang operations on the streets.
For four years, investigators have been trying to track down those involved in this racketeering case. So far, that total is 32, some prison guards, others inmates, and some the go-betweens.
The entire conspiracy began to reveal itself after Corpus Christi Police Department officers busted an Aryan Circle stolen car ring, an operation that prosecutors say was being run from the McConnell Unit by inmates there who had cell phones, which were smuggled to them by guards.
Prosecutors believe that the smuggling of cell phones and drugs to inmates began as early as 2005, after guards were supposedly paid $500 to $800 dollars for allowing prisoners to get cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, ecstasy and those cell phones.
The government said this was a case of organized crime being run from inside a prison, which is why they are using racketeering laws, which were originally made to try and deal with the Mafia back in the late 60s. Prosecutors say gang leaders inside the McConnell Unit were there on charges such as aggravated robbery and/or murder. Still, they were able to bribe the guards with cash so they could get those cell phones and continue to run their gang on the streets from the inside of their prison cells.
"This is what we're facing here today, is organized crime from within a prison," U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson said. "The enterprise was the Texas Department of Criminal Justice that was being used for nefarious purposes by not only the guards, but the inmates, and they were able to commit crimes through the use of these illegal cell phones and communications that the guards provided, and the people who facilitated these crimes, by providing the drugs and the money that went along with this enterprise."
"The safety of the public outside the prison was compromised by what corrupted guards allowed into it," said Brian Moskowitz, special agent in charge of Homeland Security."If proven true, they show that the walls of the McConnell Unit may have kept the criminals inside, it did not keep their crimes inside. Sadly, as the indictment reflects, these were not isolated incidents, nor were they the work of a few; rather, it appears that this behavior became institutionalized."
Officials believe Operation Prison Cell should serve as a reminder to those working in our prisons to follow the law or there will be consequences.
There are three more defendants in this case who have not been jailed. Prosecutors say they are on the run, and agents are on the lookout for them.
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