INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett announced 13 convictions Monday from an investigation called Operation Lockdown.
It started a little over a year ago when federal authorities arrested 40 people involved in a drug trafficking operation that was conducted by prison inmates using cell phones.
That was just one example of a larger problem that was the subject of an I-Team 8 investigation earlier this year.
The Pendleton Reformatory is one of three Indiana prisons where Operation Lockdown found inmates using cell phones to oversee large purchases of methamphetamine from California. The investigation also led authorities to uncover drug deals in communities that include Noblesville, Indianapolis and New Castle.
"You have an incarcerated prisoner who is masterminding a drug trafficking organization from within a prison cell," Hogsett said, "using a cell."
Prison officials in Pendleton encounter so many cell phones, according to the I-Team 8 investigation, that they use a dog trained to locate lithium batteries to search prison cells for phones.
"Cell phone might get in here," said one prison official, "and last four to six months before we actually find it."
"We confiscate about between 100 and 200 cell phones a month," said another.
Sometimes, as I-Team 8 reported, prison employees smuggle the phones inside. They can sell for thousands of dollars.
Among the 40 people arrested in Operation Lockdown is one prison guard. "To date 13 defendants have been sentenced," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Glickman. "The remainder are set for trial."
The federal sentences range from two to 27 years. As the I-Team reported, possession of a cell phone in prison causes an inmate to lose just 90 days-worth of good time.
Operation Lockdown is the third federal prosecution in three years to target a criminal organization operating via cell phones from prisons in Indiana. The other two involved drug trafficking and identity theft.
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