STATE CORRECTION OFFICERS AND OTHERS CHARGED IN DRUG TRAFFICKING SCHEME
Sixteen charged in undercover corruption investigation in Palm Beach County
Jeffrey H. Sloman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Michael McAuliffe, State Attorney for Palm Beach County, John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, Walter McNeil, Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections, Ric Bradshaw, Sheriff, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, and Ken J. Mascara, Sheriff, St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office, announced the federal indictment of sixteen (16) individuals in connection with a long-term undercover corruption investigation involving Florida state prison guards.
Today’s charges stem from an investigation begun at the request of the Florida Department of Corrections into alleged smuggling of contraband into Glades Correctional Institution by state employees. As a result of the investigation, conducted jointly by federal, state and local authorities, in addition to the federal charges announced today, the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office has also filed state charges against other individuals accused of smuggling contraband into the prison.
The 10-count federal indictment unsealed today charges defendants Latess Hill, 27, of Belle Glade, Jentle Chatman, 27, of Belle Glade, Zedra Warner, 32, of Pahokee, Belinda Davis Brown, 34, of Belle Glade, Tanika Wright, 26, of Mangonia Park, Samantha Wilkerson, 27, of Belle Glade, Kenyetta Biggs, 25, of Pahokee, Elisha Allen, 26, of Belle Glade, Melvin Brown, 24, of Clewiston, Antonio Key, 26, of Belle Glade, Jason Miller, 27, formerly of West Palm Beach, Marcus Pitre, 27, of Belle Glade, Dondia Wilkerson, 22, of Belle Glade, Pakesha McCray, 30, of South Bay, Takisha Golden, 33, of Belle Glade, and Melissa Jefferson, 26, of South Bay, with one count of conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 846. The Indictment also charges individual defendants in nine counts of attempting to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 841(a)(1). Lastly, the Indictment seeks the forfeiture of $145,000, which sum represents the proceeds the defendants allegedly received from their participation in the drug scheme. If convicted, the defendants face a minimum sentence of ten years in federal prison.
Eleven of the sixteen individuals charged today were employed by the State of Florida as Corrections Officers at the Glades Correctional Institution, located in Belle Glade, FL. Defendant Tanika Wright was employed as a Corrections Officer at Florida Road Prison, located in Loxahatchee, FL. 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, FL. Defendants Antonio Key, Dondia Wilkerson, and Pakesha Mccray were not Correction Officers, but misrepresented themselves as Corrections Officers to participate in the purported drug distribution scheme 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. According to the Indictment, the defendants agreed to use their positions and status as Corrections Officers to protect and facilitate the purported drug activities of the undercover agents.
Thereafter, the defendants allegedly agreed to transport and did in fact transport on multiple occasions what they believed to be multi-kilo quantities of cocaine from the undercover warehouses in Miami-Dade County to locations in West Palm Beach. Specifically, the indictment alleges nine separate episodes in which the defendants transported the purported cocaine from Miami-Dade County to locations in Palm Beach County, beginning in September 2008 and continuing through November 2009.
In exchange for transporting and protecting the purported cocaine, the defendants allegedly received the following cash payments from the undercover agents:
Latess Hill: $33,000 Jentle Chatman: $19,000 Zedra Warner: $10,000 Belinda Davis Brown: $12,000 Tanika Wright: $10,500 Samantha Wilkerson: $10,000 Kenyetta Biggs: $10,500 Elisha Allen: $5,000 Melvin Brown: $5,000 Antonio Key: $5,000 Jason Miller: $5,000 Marcus Pitre: $5,000 Dondia Wilkerson: $5,000 Pakesha Mccray: $5,000 Takisha Golden: $5,000 Melissa Jefferson: $5,000
U.S. Attorney Jeffrey H. Sloman stated, “This case is a shining example of federal, state and local law enforcement cooperation to combat corruption in our state. Corruption – whether at City or County Hall, within a police department, or within a state prison – erodes the public’s confidence in government officials and institutions. For this reason, we cannot allow those involved in the administration of justice, at any level, to misuse their official positions to line their own pockets.”
Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe said, “The joint investigation in this matter shows how agencies can work together with a common vision and goal to combat corruption in all its forms, including when the alleged corruption occurs within law enforcement. The charges in the federal indictment and in the state informations reflect serious allegations of abuse of authority in the state corrections system. The need for accountability has never been greater in our community. This case is a significant step in the right direction.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge John V. Gillies added, “Prison guards have one of the toughest jobs in law enforcement and are crucial to public safety. When they break the law, not only does it create an unstable prison environment, but it also puts our communities at risk. Our success in this investigation was the direct result of the exceptional cooperation and expertise among the federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.”
“Department of Corrections staff alerted authorities in December 2007 to the unusual amount of drug activity occurring in their facility, and have worked continuously with state and federal agents to bring this investigation, dubbed ‘Operation Blind Justice,’ to a successful conclusion,” said Department of Corrections Secretary Walter McNeil. “I am particularly proud of prison leadership and our Inspector General’s Drug Interdiction Unit, who spotted the problem and took immediate and appropriate action.”
“Allegations of corruption within a public safety organization are always disturbing and serious. Corruption allegations hurt not only the affected agency, but hurt all of us in the criminal justice system who rely so greatly on the public’s trust. This case exemplifies the collaborative effort of public safety and law enforcement officials to dedicate necessary resources to fully investigate those allegations. I am proud to play a part in this investigation and would like to thank the investigators of the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office who tirelessly assisted in this case.”
Mr. Sloman commended the investigative efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, and the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office. Mr. Sloman 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.
An Indictment is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
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.