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January 26, 2008 - Orlando Sentinel (FL)

Prison Workers Arrested In Smuggling Probe In Sumter County

Cigarettes, Drugs And Phones Commanded A Premium Price Behind Bars, Authorities Say

By Jim Leusner, Sentinel Staff Writer

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Even behind the walls of two high-security federal prisons in Sumter County, inmates can find the things they enjoyed on the outside -- cigarettes, cigars, cellular phones, drugs and even a knife.

On Friday, federal prosecutors and prison officials announced criminal cases that have quietly been filed against nine employees at the Federal Correctional Complex in Coleman. An inmate and a correctional officer's girlfriend were also charged.

Most were accused of receiving bribes of up to $20,000 for smuggling forbidden items into facilities there since 2005, including marijuana and heroin. Much of the smuggling activity involved tobacco products, which were banned from federal prisons in April 2006.

"It was about money, all about greed," said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolyn Adams, the No. 2 person in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida. "They could make $100 for a pack of cigarettes. It was about making what looked like easy money."

The charges were filed against seven correctional officers, a cook and a drug-treatment counselor who worked at the five low-, medium- and high-security prison facilities at Coleman.

They included correctional officers Timothy Dixon, 33, of Wildwood; Isidro Gonnell, 32, of Clermont; Jerald Graham, 27, of Bushnell; Calvin Williams, 30, of Orlando; Luis Viera, 41, of Tavares; and inmate Ivan Vazquez-Alomar, 42.

All were charged with assorted bribery and contraband smuggling violations over the past few months in unrelated cases. Some have pleaded guilty while others were named in indictments unsealed this week.

The cases range from accusations of a $20,000 bribe to Dixon for cigarettes, cell phones and marijuana to a $5,500 payment to Gonnell for cell phones, tobacco, marijuana and heroin.

Viera, a 12-year veteran federal prison guard who worked in Puerto Rico before transferring to Coleman in 2006, was accused of assisting Vazquez in getting 12 cartons of cigarettes, two packs of cigars and a knife in exchange for more than $5,000.

Williams, a prison guard since 2001, was accused of conspiring with girlfriend Angel Jackson, 30, of Orlando to pick up a cellular phone, phone numbers, cigarettes, watches and cash from families of inmates involved in the scheme in 2006 and 2007.

During one conversation with an inmate in November 2006, authorities say, Williams agreed to smuggle contraband in exchange for money and stock market investing advice. The following month, he opened a brokerage account and used $2,500 of the bribery proceeds in it, the indictment said.

Correctional officer William Blanton, 48, of Ocala was charged with having sex with a female inmate in 2005. Prison cook Martin Flores, 35, of Orlando was charged with accepting $12,000 in bribes for cigarettes, while prison counselor Kendra Russell, 41, of Tavares was charged with receiving $948 for marijuana brought into a prison in 2005.

Correctional officer Alonzo Scurlock, 35, of Leesburg, pleaded guilty last month to smuggling cigarettes and cell phones into a prison in 2006 for $10,000. Graham pleaded guilty in November to attempting to smuggle a cell phone and cigarettes and was placed on two years' probation.

"At the times of these offenses, the correctional officers could take their own personal items into the prison," Adams said. "Now, anyone who goes into the facility is subject to being searched."

The investigations were conducted by the FBI, Justice Department's Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Adams said the contraband created security issues by allowing inmates to call criminals on the outside or use smuggled items for favors and payment, which could endanger prison workers.

Bureau of Prisons spokesman Felicia Ponce said the nine corrections employees have been fired or suspended or have resigned. Corrections officers earn between $30,000 and $53,000 annually, she said. Coleman's Web site on Friday said it was in "urgent need of correctional officers."

Coleman employs 1,266 workers at five facilities and houses nearly 7,500 inmates in the largest federal prison complex in the nation.

"Despite our best efforts to select, hire, train and closely supervise the most suitable people for the job, in very rare instances employees still elect to violate our policies and in some cases, the law," Ponce said. "Unfortunately, the actions of a few detract from the hard work and dedication of the vast majority of the staff at the complex."

Jim Leusner can be reached at or 407-420-5411.

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