(WISH file photo)
Updated: Thursday, 15 Apr 2010, 2:18 PM EDT
Published : Thursday, 15 Apr 2010, 2:14 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - An inmate equipped with an illicit cell phone ran a drug ring from an Indiana prison, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
Nineteen people were charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine in a federal indictment unsealed Thursday in Terre Haute.
The indictment named Wesley S. Hammond, 39, as the ringleader. Hammond of Vigo County is in the New Castle state prison serving a 15-year sentence for drug dealing. The other 18 suspects are all Terre Haute residents.
If convicted, each could face 10 years to life in prison.
U.S. Attorney Tim Morrison said all of the suspects were in custody Thursday morning and are expected to seek lawyers before court hearings scheduled for Monday. He did not believe any yet had attorneys.
The arrests resulted from a five-month investigation by federal, state and local agencies.
Authorities reported seizing more than a pound of methamphetamine, more than 200 pounds of marijuana and nearly $81,000 in cash during raids in the Terre Haute area. Morrison said the meth was believed to have been brought from the Southwest, not brewed in the area.
The indictment charges that Hammond "maintained a cellular telephone while in prison and used the cellular telephone to coordinate the activities of a methamphetamine trafficking organization operating in Terre Haute."
Hammond's 28-year-old girlfriend, Jennifer Poltrock, allegedly served as his lieutenant in Terre Haute, distributing methamphetamine and marijuana to dealers who worked for Hammond, the indictment said.
Cell phones are a widespread problem in prisons even though their possession by inmates is forbidden, said Indiana Department of Correction spokesman Doug Garrison.
"We seize hundreds of cell phones every year from our facilities, and we absolutely know we're not getting them all," he said.
Cell phones often are smuggled into prison by visitors, he said. Sometimes they're thrown over prison walls. Prison guards who are caught dealing in cell phones are fired, he said.
"Some guys just want to talk to their girlfriends," Garrison said, but inmates have been known to conduct illegal business and even go so far as to order murders using their cell phone.
"This (case) precisely illustrates the problem that we're having," he said.
A state law passed this year makes inmate possession of a cell phone a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
Opinions that are derogatory, attack other users or are offensive in nature may be removed. WTHI is not responsible for the content posted in this comment section. We reserve the right to remove any offensive or off-topic remark or thread. To mark a comment for review by a moderator, click "Report Abuse."