Nearly 50 Georgia correctional officers have been arrested across the state as former state prison guards face drug and bribery charges. The officers face eight federal indictments, which have recently been unsealed, according to CNN.
The Georgia correctional indictments are part of a continuing crackdown to rid the state prison system of drugs, corruption and contraband cell phones which are being used by inmates to commit crimes outside the prison walls. The new indictments allege corruption by officers from Phillips, Macon, Dooly, Hancock, Pulaski and Baldwin state prisons.
Five of the guards being charged were members of the state’s tactical team, which works to rid prisons of contraband and control riots. Two civilians and one inmate have also been arrested.
According to one indictment, Georgia correctional officers allegedly believed they were providing protection in a corruption task to a Locust Grove-area drug dealing who was transporting multiple kilograms of methamphetamine and cocaine. In exchange, the officers received thousands of dollars in bribes, the indictment said.
John Horn, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said during a press conference that the indictments against the correctional officers reveal “staggering corruption.”
“It is truly troubling that so many corrections officers from across the state of Georgia could be so willing to sell their oaths, to sell their badges, for personal profit — to benefit and protect purported drug transactions,” he said, adding that the alleged acts put the public in danger.
Operation Ghost Guard was initiated after a smuggled cellphone enabled a prisoner to allegedly put a kidnapping and murder scheme into motion while serving a life sentence. The inmate, Kelvin Melton, is allegedly a high-ranking member of the Bloods gang and allegedly tried to have his prosecutor’s 63-year-old father killed in 2014.
Communicating through a contraband phone, Melton allegedly enlisted fellow gang members outside of prison to kidnap the victim from his Wake Forest home, resulting in a four-day interstate manhunt that ended in a rescue by federal agents. Melton has denied the charge and is awaiting trial.
Thursday’s arrests are the latest in a crackdown that has resulted in indictments of 130 Georgia officers, inmates, former inmates and others since last September. Gregory Dustin Gouldman, a corrections officer at the high-security North Carolina prison where Melton is being held, was subsequently indicted for allegedly smuggling packages containing mobile phones, tobacco, marijuana and batteries from the outside and selling them to inmates.
Federal agents were also prompted to investigate the origins of jail contraband after tracing a phone scam known as the “jury scam” to Georgia prisoners. The scheme, which the FBI says garnered tens of thousands of dollars for the state’s inmates, used “smartphones provided by corrupt guards” to trick people across the country into believing that they had missed jury duty.
The inmates pretended to be law enforcement officials — going so far as to identify themselves as such in their voicemails — and told potential victims that they had to either pay fines for failing to appear in court or face arrest.
“They sounded like deputies from a sheriff’s office,” one FBI agent said in a statement on the bureau’s website. “They were very sophisticated and believable.”
As part of the undercover operation, FBI agents gave Georgia officers the opportunity to use their authority to protect drug smuggling operations for a high-level trafficker who did not really exist. The correctional staff were compensated with thousands of dollars in bribes.
Operation Ghost Guard found that corrupt Georgia correctional officers earned between $500 to $1,000 for smuggling drugs and a single cellphone for a prisoner. More than 23,500 contraband phones were confiscated from Georgia prisons in 2014.