STATE CORRECTION OFFICERS AND OTHERS PLEAD GUILTY IN DRUG TRAFFICKING SCHEME
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, and Ric Bradshaw, Sheriff, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, announced today the resolution of a long-term undercover public corruption investigation of Florida State Prison guards. All sixteen individuals charged in February 2010 in a wide-ranging federal indictment have pled guilty, and will be sentenced in the near future.
The federal indictment charged defendants Latess Hill, Jentle Chatman, Zedra Warner, Belinda Davis Brown, Tanika Wright, Samantha Wilkerson, Kenyetta Biggs, Elisha Allen, Melvin Brown, Antonio Key, Jason Miller, Marcus Pitre, Dondia Wilkerson, Pakesha Mccray, Takisha Golden, and Melissa Jefferson, with one count of conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Sections 846. The Indictment also charges individual defendants in nine counts of attempting to possess cocaine with intent to distribute it, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 841(a)(1). Each of the charged individuals pled guilty to at least one felony count involving either conspiracy to possess cocaine or attempting to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute.
Eleven of the sixteen individuals charged were employed by the State of Florida as Corrections Officer at the Glades Correctional Institute, located in Belle Glade, Palm Beach County, FL. Of those employed elsewhere, defendant Tanika Wright was employed as a Corrections Officer at Florida Road Prison, located in Loxahatchee, Palm Beach County. Defendant Elisha Allen was employed by The Geo Group, a third-party contractor with the State of Florida, as a Corrections Officer at South Bay Correctional Facility, located in South Bay, Palm Beach County. Defendants Antonio Key, Dondia Wilkerson, and Pakesha Mccray were not Correction Officers, but misrepresented themselves as Corrections Officers during the undercover investigation.
During the investigation, FBI undercover agents represented to the defendants that they were members of a purported drug trafficking group, interested in having the defendants protect and facilitate the undercover agents’ drug trafficking operation in exchange for cash payments. As discussed during the various guilty pleas, undercover federal and state and local law enforcement agents posed as drug traffickers, and paid each of the defendants to carry multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine from Miami to West Palm Beach in exchange for cash payments of $5,000. Undercover meetings, the delivery of sham cocaine, and the payment of cash bribes were all recorded by law enforcement using digital audio and video equipment; all of the defendants wore official clothing during the time of the nine separate drug transportation episodes. Due to security concerns, the FBI never allowed any sham or fake cocaine to be smuggled into any state prison facility. After their arrest in February 2010, most of the defendants confessed to the FBI.
The charges stem from an investigation that began at the request of the Florida Department of Corrections into alleged smuggling of contraband into Glades Correctional Institute by state employees. As a result of the investigation, conducted jointly by federal, state and local authorities. State charges against other guards are still pending against other guards not charged federally.
Mr. Ferrrer commended the investigative efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. Mr. Ferrer also noted with appreciation the cooperation of the Florida Department of Corrections during this investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephen Carlton and Julia Paylor.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.