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Public Notices

April 19, 2014

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Prosecutors Unravel 'Conspiracy'
To Get Drugs Into Jail

Originally published: 2014-02-08 07:15:50
Last modified: 2014-02-08 07:18:45
 


BY KEN LITTLE

STAFF WRITER

It's a constant battle to stop the flow of illegal drugs into correction facilities such as the Greene County Detention Center.

An investigation last year led to charges against numerous inmates and two former correction officers who worked at the jail.

Many of the inmates have entered pleas in the case in recent weeks, and others will appear before Greene County Criminal Court Judge John F. Dugger Jr. next month.

While acknowledging that it's impossible to completely stop the smuggling of pills and other drugs into the jail, Assistant District Attorney General Ritchie Collins said this week that the arrests last year put a serious dent in the drug pipeline operating behind bars here.

The struggle continues.

"It's certainly not very complicated. Any time there is money involved, there's not going to be a lack of people wanting to participate," Collins said.

There are frequent attempts to smuggle "a wide range of controlled substances" into the Greene County Detention Center by defendants being processed into the jail.

"It's mainly (narcotic) pills and Suboxone strips," Collins said.

Assistant District Attorney General Cecil Mills Jr. said most of the drugs brought into the jail come from recently-booked inmates.

"There's many ways they attempt to get it in. Most of them are attempting to get drugs in in cavities of the body," Mills said.

CONSPIRACY DESCRIBED

The conspiracy unraveled by authorities began in 2012 and was shut down in February 2013. Numerous charges resulted.

"There were several inmates throughout 2012 and up until February 2013, and there was an 'operation' -- for lack of a better word -- an ongoing criminal conspiracy to introduce controlled substances into the jail," Collins said.

In April 2013, authorities announced that two former Greene County Detention Center officers had been charged with bribery of a public servant in connection with activities that allegedly occurred when they were working at the county jail.

Glen Allen Johnson, 36, and Charles Jason Shelton, 37, were charged by agents of the Third Judicial District Drug Task Force.

Both allegedly accepted cash "upon an agreement or understanding that [their] actions would be influenced," a report said.

SMUGGLING 'CONTRABAND'

Johnson and Shelton both signed written statements admitting that, at the request of inmates, each defendant participated in "smuggling contraband into the [jail] in exchange for money."

Johnson and Shelton, along with a third correction officer, were fired in March 2013. Charges have not been filed against the third former officer.

Johnson and Shelton are scheduled to appear March 31 in Greene County Criminal Court.

Arrests of inmates in connection with the case began in March 2013. Last month, at least 10 entered guilty pleas to related offenses in Greene County Criminal Court and were sentenced by Dugger.

'KEY FIGURE' IN CASE

One man, Anthony Allen Taylor, 37, formerly of Birds Bridge Road, was singled out by prosecutors as a "key figure" in the case.

On Jan. 17, Taylor pleaded guilty to three charges of bribery of a public servant, three charges of conspiracy to commit bribery of a public servant, five charges of money-laundering, conspiracy to introduce a controlled substance into a penal institution, and conspiracy to sell/deliver a controlled substance.

He was sentenced to 10 years in the custody of the state Department of Correction with a 30 percent release eligibility date.

"He was the person in the center of the effort to introduce drugs into the jail," Collins said.

Taylor's role in the conspiracy ended when he was transferred from the jail in October 2012 to another facility "for reasons unrelated to the drug conspiracy," Collins said.

"When Anthony Taylor leaves, there is a void. There is a vacuum," Collins said. "When someone leaves, people seek to fill that void."

Others soon stepped in to fill Taylor's shoes.

"When it comes to narcotics, these people are in jail for [possessing] narcotics, and they just don't break their habit all of a sudden because they're incarcerated," Collins said. "They're going to be satisfying their addiction."

MARCUS STRONG INVOLVEMENT

Another defendant in the case is well known to local authorities.

Marcus W. Strong, 34, formerly of Chuckey Pike, was sentenced by Dugger on Jan. 16 to an effective prison term of 20 years at 30 percent release eligibility after pleading guilty in Greene County Criminal Court to aggravated vehicular homicide and drug charges.

The drug charges were filed while Strong was an inmate in the county jail in 2012 and 2013.

The multiple DUI offender was the driver in a Chuckey Pike crash in July 2012 that killed 33-year-old passenger Kiley Ricker Shelton.

Strong's trial on the vehicular homicide-related charges was scheduled to begin on Jan. 27, but he decided to accept a plea offer from prosecutors.

Strong has six previous DUI convictions and was also charged with vehicular homicide, DUI and DUI-seventh offense. Those charges were merged into the aggravated vehicular homicide conviction.

He received a sentence of 18 years at 30 percent release eligibility on the aggravated vehicular homicide conviction.

Strong also entered guilty pleas to two counts each of criminal conspiracy to introduce drugs into a penal institution, and criminal conspiracy to sell or deliver a controlled substance.

He was sentenced to an effective two-year jail term by Dugger on the four drug-related counts, added to the 18-year sentence.

MILLS COMMENDED

Strong's parents, 67-year-old Carl E. Strong and 62-year-old Wilma Lee Strong, were also indicted in November 2013 on two counts each of criminal conspiracy to introduce drugs into a penal facility, and criminal conspiracy to sell or deliver a controlled substance.

Prosecutors said that Strong enlisted his parents to assist in smuggling drugs into the jail. The cases of Carl Strong and Wilma Strong are pending.

While Marcus Strong played a role in the drug-smuggling conspiracy at the jail, the gravity of the aggravated vehicular homicide offense and the horrific nature of that crime eclipsed the jail-related drug charges, said Collins, who credited Mills with securing the 20-year prison term for Strong.

"No one in this district has ever received that much (time) for vehicular homicide. General Mills should be commended," Collins said.

CHARGED IN 2013

Many of the defendants in the case were charged in July 2013 after completing sentences for prior offenses and being released from jail on those offenses.

Several of these defendants received 10-year prison sentences for their roles in the drug conspiracy within the Detention Center.

Ben Harold Kite, 24, of Paul Pettit Road, Mohawk, pleaded guilty Jan. 17 to two charges of bribery of a public servant and burglary other than a habitation.

He was sentenced to 10 years in the state Department of Correction with a 30 percent release eligibility date.

Daniel Duane Morrison, 39, of 115 Shady Grove Lane, pleaded guilty Jan. 17 to bribery of a public servant, conspiracy to bribe a public servant, five charges of money-laundering conspiracy, three charges of conspiracy to sell/deliver a controlled substance, and two charges of conspiracy to introduce a controlled substance into a penal institution.

Morrison was sentenced to 10 years in state prison with a 30 percent release eligibility date.

Others sentenced in connection with the case include:

* Joshua Douglas Svette, 31, of Gibson Road, who pleaded guilty Jan. 23 to conspiracy to introduce contraband into a penal institution, and introduction of contraband into a penal institution.

Svette was sentenced to six years in state custody with a 30 percent release eligibility date, and must serve 180 days prior to beginning supervised probation.

* Ashley Jade Svette, 28, of Deadwood Lane, pleaded guilty Jan. 23 to introduction of contraband into a penal institution, and was sentenced to six years in state custody with a 30 percent release eligibility date, and must serve 180 days prior to beginning supervised probation.

* Mary Sue Crum, 60, of Deadwood Lane, pleaded guilty Jan. 17 to conspiracy to introduce a controlled substance into a penal institution and introduction of a controlled substance into a penal institution.

Crum, mother of Joshua and Ashley Svette, was placed on state-supervised probation for three years and one day.

* Benjamin Coty Kite, 26, of Paul Pettit Road, Mohawk, pleaded guilty Jan. 17 to conspiracy to introduce a controlled substance into a penal institution, introduction of a controlled substance into a penal institution, food stamp fraud and conspiracy to sell/deliver a controlled substance.

He was sentenced to two years and one day in the custody of the state Department of Correction with a 30 percent release eligibility date, with time to be served consecutive to sentence terms for other offenses he was convicted of in Greene County Criminal Court.

* Ralph Taylor Jr., 76, of Bohannon Avenue., pleaded guilty Jan. 16 to three charges of conspiracy to bribe a public servant and was placed on probation for three years, one day under state supervision.

Ralph Taylor is the father of Anthony Taylor, prosecutors said.

DEFENDANT DECEASED

Another man charged in connection with the case was Steven H. Berry, who died in December. He was 49.

Prosecutors said that in July 2013, while he was an inmate in the Greene County jail, Berry helped another inmate make bond so that he could be released from jail, with the understanding that the man would get re-arrested for public intoxication and smuggle drugs into the jail.

Charged with introduction of Schedule II drugs into a penal facility and possession of a Schedule II drug with intent to sell or deliver were Matthew Dwight Norton, 28, of the Baileyton Highway, and Berry, of Whitesburg.

Charges were filed against Norton for "knowingly bonding out of jail and getting himself arrested again a few hours later for public intoxication and bringing in Schedule II drugs packaged in black tape and concealed in the defendant's anal cavity," a report by sheriff's deputies said.

Ten morphine pills and two syringes were found as Norton was being booked into the jail on the public intoxication charge, the report said.

Norton's case is pending.

CASES PENDING

Several other persons of interest in the case have yet to be charged, Collins said.

Another defendant failed to appear last month in Criminal Court on the date he was scheduled to enter a plea, and is being sought on an arrest warrant.

In the cases of Strong and the Svettes, parents were also charged with allegedly assisting in the conspiracy, an indication of the strong family ties and other connections among defendants.

"Every one of these [inmates] has been in and out of jail with each other in the past," Collins said. "Any time you are in jail and are trying to get things into the jail, you've got to have connections on the outside."

OTHER COUNTIES' PROBLEMS

The challenge of eliminating drugs behind bars is by no means confined to Greene County.

In Grainger County, at least five former jailers were charged with misconduct and other offenses in January.

Investigators said that contraband was being dropped off to inmates through broken windows at the jail, just one of the issues identified there.

"We don't have that kind of problem in Greene County. I'm sure every county suffers from these same types of issues," Collins said.

"I don't think there is a vast conspiracy on par with what we've experienced in the past."

EMPHASIS BY AG BELL

Local law enforcement officials are making every effort to stop the flow of illegal drugs into the jail, Collins said.

He said that the efforts of Third Judicial District Drug Task Force agents were instrumental in securing convictions against those responsible for the 2012-13 drug conspiracy here.

"A lot of credit should go to [District Attorney General] Berkeley Bell. He allocated a lot of time and resources to addressing the issue at the jail," Collins said.

Collins said the scope of the conspiracy and the involvement of both correction officers and inmates should be considered an isolated incident.

"People don't have to go to bed tonight worrying about public servants introducing drugs into the jail," he said. "Any time you run a large organization, it is hard to personally oversee each and every person."

'PROUD OF JAIL STAFF'

After the three correction officers were fired in 2013, Sheriff Steve Burns said the vast majority of Greene County Detention Center employees do a difficult job very well.

He reiterated that view Thursday.

"We're very proud of the staff we have at the jail. We go to great lengths with all of our officers, especially in reference to our jailers, to have good quality employees with good backgrounds," Burns said.

"We take pride in what they do and the quality of the job that they do."

Burns said it's "unfortunate" that a few succumb to temptations related to the job.

Collins said that the quality of Sheriff's Department personnel is top-notch.

"The Greene County Sheriff's Department is full of good people, and they work very hard and they are beyond reproach," he said.

The public's help in bringing criminal activity to the attention of law enforcement helped investigators connect the dots in the jail drug conspiracy case, Collins said.

"A lot of cases break simply because concerned citizens pick up a phone and report what they know," he added.

 
For more information and stories, see The Greeneville Sun.

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