Indictments: Prisoners used cellphones to run crime rings

ATLANTA (AP) — Gangs at some Georgia prisons have been using cellphones to traffic drugs, smuggle in contraband, steal identities and, in at least one case, to arrange for a violent attack on another inmate suspected of snitching, according to federal indictments unsealed Thursday that target a dozen people who officials say were involved in two prison-based crime rings.

The inmates relied on prison employees to smuggle cellphones and other contraband into the prisons, two indictments say. They then used the phones to communicate with networks of other inmates, friends on the outside and prison staff members.

One indictment accuses Donald Howard Hinley of running a drug trafficking ring and routinely brokering significant drug deals in the Atlanta area and other parts of the state from his cell at Valdosta State Prison. Prosecutors say he regularly arranged for prison employees to smuggle in telephones, cigarettes, liquor and drugs.

On one occasion, prison officer Anekra Artina Williams, smuggled in prescription pain medication and methamphetamine into the prison in exchange for $500, the indictment says. According to phone calls and text messages, Hinley arranged for liquor to be smuggled in in large plastic water bottles and had his associates package marijuana and methamphetamine so that Williams could hide it under her vest, prosecutors say.

Hinley also instructed an associate at Telfair State Prison to kill another inmate because he believed him to be a snitch who would likely testify against Hinley's girlfriend in a drug trafficking case, the indictment says. Hinley also told his associate to shoot the potential witness' family members once the associate was released, saying "... pop them all off, kids, grandmamas, daddies, I don't give a (expletive), right?" and bragged to his girlfriend by phone, describing his associate as "a straight (expletive) killing machine."

The second indictment says Mims Morris, Johnathan Silvers and Adam Smith, who were members of the Ghostface gang, used phones to traffic drugs while they were inmates at Phillips State Prison in Buford, and that Morris also used cellphones to commit identity theft. The indictment says Morris and Silvers even had phones and other contraband while they were in administrative segregation, known as "the hole."

In cellphone conversations captured by a wiretap, Silvers bragged that his cellmate was watching a movie on his phone while they were in the hole and also talked about posting on Facebook and buying shoes online. He said all the guards knew he had a cellphone in the hole, the indictment says.

Silvers paid Charonda Edwards, a kitchen worker at the prison, to smuggle in drugs, tobacco and other contraband, and she also gave them valuable information, like when the prison would be put on lockdown, the indictment says. They relied on prison orderlies and other inmates to move drugs, cellphones and other items to be sold to other inmates.

Using a cellphone, Morris posed as a fraud specialist for a credit card company and got a woman to reveal her personal information, which he used to authorize a transfer of $2,200 to a card he controlled and to apply for additional cards.

Morris also instructed a friend who wasn't in prison, Tiffany Allen, to post ads on Craigslist as if he were looking to hire people for construction and roofing jobs and providing his prison cellphone in the ad, the indictment says. He planned to get the job applicants' personal information and open debit cards in their names, prosecutors allege.

It was not immediately clear Thursday whether any of those accused in the indictments has a lawyer.