More State Grand Jury Indictments Issued in “Prison Empire”, Making It the Largest Narcotics Conspiracy Investigation Ever Indicted in South Carolina Courts; Indictments of 100 Defendants Allege Drug Trafficking Often Led by Prison Inmates With Contraband Cell Phones

(COLUMBIA, SC) – March 8, 2021 – South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced today that the South Carolina State Grand Jury has issued more indictments in the drug trafficking case known as “Prison Empire,” making it now have the largest number of defendants for a single narcotics conspiracy investigation ever indicted in South Carolina courts.  The indictments in “Prison Empire” collectively contain 487 charges alleged within 297 counts against 100 defendants.  To date, the investigation has seized approximately 20 kilograms of methamphetamine, 5 kilos of heroin, and 1.5 kilograms of cocaine, as well as 82 firearms.  The investigation has revealed that this ongoing drug trafficking conspiracy has accounted for over 1000 kilograms of methamphetamine trafficked throughout the State of South Carolina.


“This case shows the importance of our State Grand Jury and its ability to investigate statewide cases that cross jurisdictional lines,” Attorney General Wilson said. “It also highlights what we’ve been talking about for years now—the danger of contraband cell phones and how prison inmates use them to commit more crimes even while they’re behind bars.”


The investigation alleges much of the drug trafficking was run and facilitated by current and former inmates though the use of contraband cell phones in South Carolina prisons.  The drugs were trafficked throughout the State of South Carolina, but mostly in the Upstate.  Most of the drugs allegedly being trafficked in the case were methamphetamine and heroin, but there are also fentanyl, cocaine, marijuana, and other charges in the case as well.  Additionally, there are a number of firearms and weapons charges associated with the alleged drug trafficking, as well as burglary, kidnapping, and related charges from an incident allegedly ordered from prison because of nonpayment of a drug debt. The investigation revealed alleged gang involvement among the conspirators as well as Mexican sources of supply for the narcotics.  At least two defendants who are currently SCDC inmates were allegedly found in possession of cell phones and methamphetamine when they were rounded up this week for their bond hearings in this case.  One of the non-inmate defendants was a paralegal at a law firm, and this defendant allegedly used hollowed out documents in legal mail to smuggle methamphetamine into the prison system.


“This is one more tragic example of the damage illegal cell phones do in the hands of inmates,” SCDC Director Bryan Stirling said. “The public would be safer if we were able to block cell phone signals. It is past time for Congress to act and allow states to jam cell phone signals inside prisons. We need a hearing on this important public safety issue.”


Bond hearings for 46 of the defendants occurred on Wednesday, March 3, 2021, and Thursday, March 4, 2021, before the Honorable Robert E. Hood via the virtual courtroom.  Previous bond hearings in the case had taken place in November 2019 before the Honorable DeAndrea G. Benjamin at the Greenville County Courthouse.  Charges against several defendants are included within the numbers above but are currently sealed, so they are not included in the list of defendants and charges below.


The case was investigated by the South Carolina State Grand Jury, which was assisted in this case by a partnership of the Attorney General’s State Grand Jury Division, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the South Carolina Department of Corrections’ Division of Police Services, the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office, the Greenville County Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit, the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office, the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office, the Edgefield County Sheriff’s Office, the Lexington County Sheriff’s Office, the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office, the Easley Police Department, the Liberty Police Department, the Pickens Police Department, and the South Carolina Governor’s Counterdrug Task Force (a unit of the South Carolina National Guard).  The cases will be prosecuted by Senior Assistant Attorney General Joshua R. Underwood, Assistant Attorney General David A. Fernandez, Assistant Attorney General John Conrad, Assistant Attorney General Johnny E. James, Jr., and State Grand Jury Division Chief Attorney S. Creighton Waters.


Attorney General Wilson stressed that all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty in a court of law.


***To see a list of all of the defendants and the charges against them, click here.***

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