A federal grand jury has indicted 80 defendants for racketeering conspiracy operating at the Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover, Maryland. (Baltimore Sun video)
Federal authorities have won indictments against 80 people, including corrections officers and inmates, in an alleged conspiracy to sneak heroin, cocaine, cellphones, pornography and other contraband into the Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover.
The largest federal indictment in Maryland history is the latest to allege that officers and inmates used sex, drugs and violence to run a criminal enterprise out of a state prison facility.
It mirrors the 2013 case in which the Black Guerrilla Family gang used similar methods of bribery and intimidation to seize control of the Baltimore City Detention Center.
Federal prosecutors now charge 18 corrections officers, 35 inmates and 27 others in a scheme in which the officers allegedly took bribes to sneak contraband into ECI, the state's largest prison.
As in the 2013 case, some of the officers are accused of having sex with inmates. Others are accused of trying to identify "snitches" who were reporting the misconduct to prison administrators, and directing other inmates to retaliate against them.
Twice in July, prosecutors said, officers directed inmates to stab other inmates, once in retaliation for the targeted inmate filing a complaint against the officer.
"One of the most significant aspects of this indictment is that it illustrates what happens inside a prison when this sort of systemic corruption flourishes," Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said. "Pervasive corruption such as we saw in this case leads to the breakdown of the legitimate operations of the institution."
Stephen T. Moyer, secretary of the state's corrections department, said the indictments were the result of an "extraordinary partnership" between his agency, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. He said he had assigned eight investigators to work with federal officials and root out corruption.
Authorities announced the indictments after pre-dawn raids in which federal agents swooped into the medium-security facility, which holds 3,300 inmates, and served warrants across the state.
Nine correctional officers each from the facility's western and eastern compounds are accused of "abusing their positions of trust as sworn officers … by engaging in illegal activities for the purposes of enriching themselves and engaging in sexual relations with inmates."
Thirty-five inmates are accused of soliciting corrections officers to smuggle contraband into the facility to be sold for a "substantial profit." Twenty-seven other people — one of whom is a former state corrections officer — are accused of facilitating the illegal activity.
Two officers and two inmates involved in the stabbings face additional civil rights charges.
The case is the third large-scale indictment to target alleged corruption in a state-run corrections facility in the last decade. The two prior cases — in which 44 were indicted at the city jail in 2013 and 24 were indicted at the Metropolitan Transition Center in 2009 — both involved the BGF gang corrupting officers' ranks.
The ECI case, in which prosecutors said multiple gangs profited, dwarfs those indictments.
The scope was apparent in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Wednesday, as dozens of defendants appeared for initial hearings held in three courtrooms throughout the day.
Federal prosecutors, appointed defense attorneys and U.S. marshals crisscrossed the halls to attend the hearings, in which additional details came into focus — including family connections between inmates and those accused of facilitating the alleged conspiracy from the outside.
For example, Eugene Bowen, 51, of Salisbury stood in a seventh-floor courtroom as Judge Stephanie A. Gallagher outlined a potential 20-year prison sentence for racketeering conspiracy and for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute drugs.
A pretrial services official said Bowen has five children, including one co-defendant, Orlando Bowen, 25, an ECI inmate. Eugene Bowen was released pending trial.
Elvia Hall, 46, of Baltimore, another accused "facilitator," stood with her hands behind her back as Gallagher advised her of her own drug and conspiracy charges. Hall's son, Michael Andrews, a 27-year-old inmate at ECI, is a co-defendant.
Hall was allowed to return home until her trial. Attorneys for Bowen and Hall declined to comment on the case.
Prosecutors said they began their investigation in 2013 when a corrections officer came forward with information about the alleged conspiracy.
Prosecutors noted their extensive use of wiretaps in the case. They cited as one example a recorded conversation between two defendants after a corrections officer was arrested in May.
"I hope it ain't nothing like, remember did you see on the news what happened down [the Baltimore City Detention Center] out here?" Apryl Robinson, a former corrections officer from Baltimore, allegedly said during the call. "'Bout a year maybe 2 years ago, it was a BGF dude he was pretty much doing the same thing, the whole time like somebody was listening on the conversation, somebody was telling pretty much. It was a whole, like, what's going on now, but it was over city jail."
Rosenstein said that the alleged conspiracy continued at ECI despite the 2013 indictments at the city jail shows the lure of such high-payout enterprises.
Prosecutors said the "going rate" for corrections officers to smuggle contraband into ECI was $500 per package. The drugs — including heroin, cocaine, buprenorphine, and MDMA, more commonly known as "molly" — were then sold for far more than their value on the streets, prosecutors said. Inmates used contraband cellphones to make payments through PayPal.
One inmate admitted to paying corrections officers $3,000 a week to smuggle in contraband, prosecutors said. Another said he "aimed to make $50,000 before he was released," prosecutors said.
Despite increased security measures at state prisons following the 2013 case, officers were able to conceal items in their crotches, hair, underwear or in sanitary napkins, prosecutors said.
Rosenstein said senior-level officials at the prison were not implicated, and had been working to root out the corruption. Moyer said he took his position in Gov. Larry Hogan's administration specifically to bring an end to such criminal operations.
Hogan, in a statement, called the indictments "a clear victory in the fight against corruption."
Moyer said there are other corruption investigations at corrections facilities in the state, and those involved should take note. He said he is considering enhancing security to address any gaps identified in the ECI investigation.
State Sen. James Mathias, a Democrat who represents Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties, sat on the legislative task force formed after the city jail scandal was exposed.
"I'm very disappointed to hear that that's been going on here," Mathias said. "It's deeply unfortunate that this is a reality, but, I would rather know about it and be able to remedy it, rather than not."
Lax hiring standards were singled out as a major factor in the Baltimore City Detention Center case. The General Assembly passed legislation requiring that corrections applicants pass polygraph tests before they may be hired.
Moyer said he supports the testing, but it has created a major obstacle to hiring. The state has about 700 vacant officer positions.
The union that represents employees at Maryland's prisons said the shortage of correctional officers has itself led to dangerous conditions — with officers fatigued and stressed from working overtime — and that the state needs to commit to hiring more.
"Our officers want to stand with people with the utmost integrity and safety, to make sure that they have safe working conditions in a very dangerous job," said Patrick Moran, president of the local AFSCME council. "We want to make sure that the department is hiring an adequate number of people to make sure that there are enough eyes and ears on the ground, to ensure that there are checks and balances, to ensure bad people aren't doing bad things."