3 more employees indicted in McCormick State Prison scandal
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - Three more employees at McCormick State Prison have joined several already charged after a scandal that allegedly involved sex with inmates, money laundering, smuggling contraband and more.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced the state grand jury indictments at a Tuesday afternoon news conference where he also discussed investigations at two other prisons.
Also announced Monday were indictments of four people in the “Clean Sweep” investigation at Lee Correctional Institution. Allegations include sexual abuse of a minor, corruption of public office and production of child sexual abuse material. The investigation also revealed the alleged corruption of a sworn correctional officer.
And in an investigation known as “Block Party,” two correctional officers were indicted on offenses related to contraband at Broad River Correctional Institution, which led to the seizure of over 600 grams of methamphetamine, 200 grams of cocaine, and marijuana, tobacco, cellphones and other electronics.
“The combination of public corruption and contraband cellphones has contributed to violent crimes, drug trafficking, child sex crimes and other crimes being committed against our citizens,” Wilson said.
Officials said the cellphones allow inmates to run organized crime rings from prison.
“We had the largest RICO case in state history being run out of a prison,” said Bryan Stirling, South Carolina Department of Corrections director. “We’ve had suicides by a veteran. We’ve had a corrections officer shot at his house. We’ve been telling you this is a problem over and over again.”
Stirling has requested about $30 million in the next state budget to install technology in every South Carolina prison that allows officials to find and shut off contraband phones.
Stirling says that’s the best option right now – short of being allowed to jam cellphone signals – which the federal government has been unwilling to let state prisons do.
Stirling has launched what he calls a “zero tolerance campaign.”
Amid the crackdown, authorities conducted surprise random searches of prison employees as they reported for work about a week and a half ago.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re an inmate facing life without parole or someone sworn to protect and keep the jails safe – if you commit a crime within prison walls, you will be held accountable,” Wilson said.
The McCormick investigation charges employees with alleged participation in lucrative conspiracies to smuggle large amounts of contraband, including marijuana, other illicit drugs, and cellphones, into the prison.
Newly indicted by the state grand jury in the McComick investigation, named “Operation Gatekeeper,” were:
- Whitney Thurmond, whose bond was set at $10,000, on a charge of misconduct in office, which carries a penalty of 0 to 10 years.
- Dontai Parks, whose bond was set at $7,500, on a charge of misconduct in office, which carries a penalty of 0 to 10 years.
- Brandon Taylor, who’ll face a bond hearing at a later date, on a charge of misconduct in office, which carries a penalty of 0 to 10 years.
Previously indicted in July were:
- Brittany Marie Pixley on charges of misconduct in office, sexual misconduct with an inmate, criminal consipracy and money laundering, two counts.
- Judy Willis Mather on charges of misconduct in office, criminal conspiracy, money Laundering, value greater than $100,000.
- Shaquaila Ewnique Morgan on charges of misconduct in office, criminal conspiracy and money laundering.
- Dion T. Gaines on charges of misconduct in office, criminal conspiracy, ethics violation and money laundering, value $300 to $20,000, two counts.
- George Stevenson Leverette, trafficking methamphetamine, 100-200 grams, possession of a Schedule II controlled substance (amphetamine), unlawful possession of prescription medication (sildenafil) and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime.
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