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Crime & Courts

SC prison gang allegedly spurred crime wave of killings, kidnappings, drugs and guns

 
 

Murder for hire, gangs, kidnapping, international drug trafficking and guns galore — all were part of an alleged “sprawling criminal enterprise” inside and outside South Carolina’s state prisons described in a 147-count indictment unveiled Thursday afternoon by federal, state and local law enforcement officials.

The 101-page indictment, which names 40 defendants including 18 women from across the state, is the result of a three-and-a-half year investigation involving dozens of law officers.

Most of the defendants appear to have been civilians at the time they were charged. Many, if not all, have been arrested and are in custody. Thirty-five of the 40 defendants face possible terms of life in prison. Ten defendants face murder charges.

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The charges encompass what officials are calling the “largest federal racketeering conspiracy in South Carolina history,” whose tentacles of crime, although centered in Lexington County and the Upstate, stretched across the state, officials said. The alleged crimes included murder, armed robbery, arson, intimidation, money laundering, drug and firearms trafficking another others.

In the course of the investigation, agents seized more than 130 firearms, including at least one fully operational machine gun and some 80 pounds of methamphetamine worth more than $4 million believed smuggled in from Mexico, officials said.

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive illegal drug that, while producing initial highs, eventually destroys the minds and bodies of many of its abusers.

“The individuals in this indictment were responsible for trafficking $50 million worth of methamphetamine a year for the past three years,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Holloway, the lead prosecutor, told reporters in a Thursday press conference at the Department of Corrections Broad River Road complex. The sprawling prison compound houses death row and other high security confinement facilities.

“To anyone who would try to harm the people of South Carolina with violence, intimidation, extortion, we are coming after you, wherever you are,” said U.S. Attorney for South Carolina Peter McCoy.

The case started in July 2017, after state prisons director Bryan Stirling said he was approached with a proposal to run a counter intelligence operation inside the prisons.

Why? “Because of cell phones. Just this device right here,” Stirling said, pulling a cell phone out of his jacket and holding it out.

That investigation, which grew to include the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents and the Lexington County multi-agency narcotics team, blossomed into a wide-ranging probe into the illegal trafficking of meth and guns sales involving prison inmates and their confederates on the outside. The gang, the Insane Gangster Disciples, or IGD, a branch of the national gang Folk Nation, quickly became a focus of the investigation.

One killing carried out by the gang involved the death of S.C. prison inmate Kendrick Hoover, who was stabbed to death at Evans Correctional Institution on March 1, 2017, by defendant Edward “Eddie Boss” Akridge, the indictment said.

The indictment described several other killings and a near-miss.

According to the indictment, several IGD members, while inside state prison and with the assistance of others on the outside, ran a drug empire from prison using contraband cell phones and other means.

The gang’s empire included an educational component, where veteran gang members ”taught other members and associates how to commit certain crimes, including drug trafficking and money laundering,” the indictment said.

Members also “acquired, stored, borrowed, transferred, carried, and used firearms and other weapons to engage in attacks and armed conflict with others,” the indictment said. Fear was used to keep victims and witnesses in check, the indictment said.

Members could be beaten or forced to write essays if they failed to follow the rules, the indictment said.

“Make no mistake, these allegations, the use of contraband cell phones within prison walls not only endangers the population of our prisons in South Carolina, the staff and administrators, but every single community across South Carolina and beyond,” said Lance Crick, deputy chief over violent crimes in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “Contraband cell phones remain the main tool of murder and mayhem and it affects this entire state.”

The indictment said several Insane Gangster Disciples gang members in prison ordered “violent retaliatory measures against those they believed were providing information to law enforcement” and against others believed to have stolen drug proceeds from the gang.

“These violent acts, to include murder and kidnapping, were often carried out by IGD members outside the jails,” said a press release accompanying the indictment.

The indictment described the IGD as made up mostly of white members, “unlike many Folk Nation-aligned gangs.” Gang members include males, who are called “Brothers of the Struggle,“ and women, who are called “Sisters of the Struggle.”

Purposes of the gang were to provide “safe houses” to hide from police outside prison, give financial aid to members for bond if they were jailed, to launder money, smuggle drugs and cell phones into prisons and jails, kill or kidnap anyone who got in their way, deliberately making victims and witnesses of their crimes fear retribution, the indictment said.

The guns found ranges from handguns to rifles to machine guns, officials said.

Seventeen of the 40 defendants were charged specifically with carrying out crimes including murder, robbery, arson, kidnapping and intimidating a witness, the indictment said.

To avoid detection by law enforcement, gang members “deliberately employed specialized methods of drug distribution such as ‘dead drops’ to avoid face-to-face transactions and tasked gang members from one geographical area to travel to another geographical area to commit violent acts,” the indictment said.

“Today we see violence inside the prison and we see violence outside the prison,” said Stirling, who again called for cell phone signal jamming inside state prisons. “Federal prisons can jam. However, because of the Federal Communications Act of 1934, almost a 90-year law ... state prisons cannot jam. That makes absolutely no sense to me.”

With McCoy’s support, Stirling said he’ll continue leaning on the state’s federal delegation in Washington to push the cell phone industry for answers.

“I want the cell phone industry to raise their hand and talk to Congress about why they’re against jamming. They’ve opposed it at every turn,” Stirling said.

This year so far, more than 4,000 cell phones have been confiscated, Stirling said.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Thursday the Federal Communications Commission can allow cellphone jamming and “stop people from dying.”

“FCC, get off your butts,” Lott said.

Asked whether more defendants will be charged, lead federal prosecutor Holloway said, “No comment.” But he did say the investigation is ongoing.

Numerous agencies participated in the investigation including the FBI, ATF, the State Law Enforcement Division, the Department of Corrections investigative unit, the State Attorney General’s Office and prosecutors from the 5th, 8th, 11th and 13th Judicial Circuits. Also contributing were sheriffs’ departments from Richland, Lexington, Greenville, Anderson, Cherokee, Laurens and Pickens counties.

Names of defendants

Matthew J. Ward, a/k/a “Bones,” 36, of Lexington

Rebecca Martinez, 33, of Lexington

Cynthia Rooks, 52, of Lexington

Richard Ford, 62, of Lexington

Amber Hoffman, 26, of Lexington

Samuel Dexter Judy, 29, of Lexington

Brian Bruce, 48, of West Columbia

Montana Barefoot, 25, of Lexington

John Johnson, 36, of Gaston

Kelly Still, 43, of Windsor

Benjamin Singleton, 46, of Lexington

Kayla Mattoni, 38, of Lexington

Alexia Youngblood, 38, of Lexington

Clifford Kyzer, 35, of Lexington

Kelly Jordan, 34, of Williamston

Mark Edward Slusher, 46, of Lexington

Robert Figueroa, 43, of West Columbia

Tiffanie Brooks, 36, of Columbia

Crystal Nicole Bright, 40, of Lexington

Brittney Shae Stephens, 32, of Anderson

Arian Grace Jeane, 26, of Greenville

Lisa Marie Costello, 43, of Gaffney

Aaron Corey Sprouse, 29, of Gaffney

Matthew Edward Clark, 41, of York

James Robert Peterson, a/k/a/ “Man Man,” 32, of Gaffney

Edward Gary Akridge, a/k/a “G9,” a/k/a “G9 the Don,” a/k/a/ “Eddie Boss,” 28, of Greenville

Aaron Michael Carrion, a/k/a “Cap G,” 28, of Lexington

Heather Henderson Orrick, 33, of Greenville

Virginia Ruth Ryall, 43, of Gastonia, North Carolina

Lisa Marie Bolton, 32, of Dallas, North Carolina

Catherine Amanda Ross, 28, of Gaffney

Brandon Lee Phillips, a/k/a “Lil B,” 36, of Gaffney

Billy Wayne Ruppe, 55, of Gaffney

Windy Brooke George, 21, of Gaffney

Juan Rodriguez, a/k/a “Fat Boy,” 40, of Woodruff

Jonathan Eugene Merchant, a/k/a/ “Merck,” 27, of Laurens

Joshua Lee Scott Brown, 23, of Greenville

Jennifer Sorgee, 36, of Easley

Alex Blake Payne, 28, of Greenville

Sally Williams Burgess, a/k/a “Cricket,” 37, of Greenville

SOURCE: OFFICE OF U.S. ATTORNEY OF SOUTH CAROLINA

This story was originally published December 10, 2020 2:00 PM.

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