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19 more charged in Md. prison sex, smuggling case

HAGERSTOWN — A federal investigation of corruption inside Baltimore’s state-run jails has produced conspiracy charges against 19 more people, including 14 current or former correctional officers who allegedly delivered drugs and cellphones to a prison gang in exchange for money, gifts, or romance, the Justice Department said Thursday.

At least five of the officers, all female, allegedly had sexual relationships with inmates or former inmates. Some considered them boyfriends or husbands, FBI Special Agent Karen Franks wrote in an affidavit. Others engaged in sexual activity for money, she wrote.

The superseding indictment unsealed Thursday brings to 44 the number of alleged Black Guerilla Family gang members and associates, including 27 correctional officers, charged since April. Sixteen of the original 25 defendants have pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy.

The new charges focus largely on drug and cellphone smuggling at the Baltimore City Detention Center. It was relatively easy for correctional officers to bring in contraband because inspection procedures in Baltimore were looser than at other state prison facilities, Franks wrote. The procedures have since been tightened, according to the affidavit.

For example, officers at the Baltimore facility weren’t required to remove their shoes — a good hiding place for contraband — during routine check-in procedures. They also could bring in food, something prohibited elsewhere in the state without a doctor’s note, according to the affidavit.

One female officer allegedly hid an ounce of marijuana in a body cavity every day before work for several years, and concealed tobacco or tranquilizer pills in her underwear, the FBI agent wrote.

U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein said the charges stem from a partnership that federal, state and local law enforcement agencies formed in 2011 to root out corruption in the state’s correctional facilities.

“Everybody in the task force anticipated it would result in the prosecution of a significant number of correctional officers,” Rosenstein said.

The FBI says certain provisions of a Maryland law called the Correctional Officers’ Bill of Rights allowed corrupt officers to avoid discipline through a complicated internal review process that sometimes ended with cases being dropped and the subjects being transferred.

Gov. Martin O’Malley announced plans for legislation in the 2014 General Assembly to help fight jail corruption, including “slight changes” to the officers’ bill of rights.

Another proposal would enable officials to demand polygraphs of correctional officers as a condition of continued employment, instead of only in the pre-employment stage. Another would make possession of contraband a felony.

“The problem here is corruption and the constant work that we must do to constantly root out corruption and to protect the integrity,” O’Malley told reporters at a public safety forum in Adelphi.