Prosecutor: Kansas prison smuggling plot's scope 'alarming'

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By JIM SUHR
Associated Press
(KANSAS CITY, Mo., AP) — A prison drug-smuggling scheme in which seven people are charged may involve more than 90 inmates, perhaps five dozen outsiders and a “significant number” of the lockup’s employees, according to a federal prosecutor in Kansas.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Erin Tomasic told a judge she assumes more Leavenworth Detention Center employees may be charged than the guard already being prosecuted in the case Tomasic said “keeps identifying — at an alarming rate actually — new targets.”
Tomasic, according to transcripts from the July 21 hearing in Kansas City, Kansas, did not quantify to U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson the number of workers under suspicion or indicate when new charges may come, citing ongoing evidence-gathering efforts, including millions of prison emails. When asked by Robinson whether more employees would be charged, Tomasic nodded affirmatively.
“Given the evidence we have at this time, the evidence suggests that there were a significant number of employees involved,” the prosecutor said.
The 1,126-bed lockup, separate from the federal prison in Leavenworth, is run by the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America under contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Marshals Service.
The smuggling case is at the center of a separate legal storm over prison recordings of lawyer conversations with clients at the lockup. A public defender has called that an unprecedented privacy violation, and Robinson this week said she plans to appoint an independent investigator to help her manage that complex matter.
On Thursday, Robinson also ruled that videos of meeting rooms at Leavenworth Detention Center show privileged attorney-client communications and ordered the prison to turn the recordings over to the court, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal.
Robinson also ordered the facility to turn over recordings of phone calls between inmates and attorneys, and told the U.S. Attorney’s Office to provide a list of anyone who accessed the recordings. The judge told the U.S. Attorney’s Office to retrieve any disseminated copies.
Corrections Corporation of America has said such recordings are commonplace at U.S. detention sites, didn’t contain audio and were for the safety of inmates, attorneys and the Leavenworth facility.
In announcing the original smuggling-related charges in April against seven people, then-U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said the scheme involved bringing contraband methamphetamines, synthetic marijuana and alcohol into the site, at times making the exchanges during drug-treatment programs and church services.
Those charges offered a glimpse inside the Leavenworth lockup where Grissom said inmates talked of getting “blistered” — a slang term for high — on drugs and resembling “zombies.” The coveted contraband there was pricy, Grissom said, noting an inmate in one telephone conversation described how a pack of cigarettes fetched $150.