OIG REVIEW OF INMATE TELEPHONE ABUSE
At the outset of our review, we asked the BOP to provide us with any information it had developed on the scope of inmate use of prison telephones to engage in criminal or prohibited activities. Understandably, determining the extent of inmate telephone abuse is a difficult task. Although all calls made by inmates are recorded with the exception of pre-arranged inmate-attorney calls less than three and a half percent of all inmate calls are ever listened to by BOP staff. The roughly 200,000 calls made by inmates each day, coupled with the limited number of staff available for monitoring, make it difficult for the BOP to estimate the extent of inmate abuse through its existing monitoring practices.
The BOP has made no comprehensive attempt to collect information from its institutions on this subject or even to keep statistics on criminal referrals involving use of prison telephones. Rather, the BOP has conducted only limited samplings to determine patterns of inmate telephone usage and staff monitoring. Moreover, this research has focused on inmate use of the telephone and the amount of monitoring, but has not addressed the issues of whether the telephones were being used for criminal activities or the effectiveness of BOPs telephone monitoring.
In response to our request for all records relating to the telephone system, the BOP provided documents that described its sampling efforts. The first was a BOP report summarizing results from a survey of 50 ITS institutions in November 1996 to determine the capability of ITS's search program to identify inmates who make an unusually high number of telephone calls. The survey results indicated that inmates made an average of 1.77 calls each day. The survey also found that some inmates with a high risk of continuing criminal activities while incarcerated were assigned to work details with only moderate levels of supervision. The report recommended placing such inmates in SENTRY,15 the BOP-wide database used for tracking inmates, under the new phone abuse security threat group (STG)16 category to better monitor their future job assignments, housing assignments, and disciplinary history.
As a result of this 1996 survey, the BOP referred four cases of inmate telephone abuse to the FBI for investigation, and the BOP identified several more cases with potential for referral. The report of the survey said that a number of institutions responding to the survey indicated that it was a real eye opener, and reported renewed emphasis on interdicting inmate telephone abuse. The report also stated that although 15 out of the 50 institutions surveyed reported no telephone abuse by the inmates, this would appear unlikely and those institutions should be contacted to confirm that the searches were operating properly.
The BOPs Intelligence Section also requires that each institution file a Monthly Activity Report through the Regional Offices. One category in this report concerns inmates use of prison telephones. Among other statistics, the report includes data on and descriptions of incident reports written about phone and mail abuse, the number of subpoenas for telephone data received by the institutions, inmates placed on mail monitoring, and any phone or mail intelligence that may affect other institutions. The Intelligence Section compiles the data and distributes a summary of the results to each institution. Although the monthly reports have some value by noting trends in telephone usage, they include no analysis or conclusions. One thing these summary reports do make clear, however, is that SIS offices are writing very few incident reports for inmate telephone abuse.
In September 1997, the Intelligence Section sent a survey to all 91 BOP institutions about inmate telephone access. Eighty-eight institutions responded. In a report issued in March 1998, the Intelligence Section summarized the results of this Inmate Telephone Access Survey:
Finally, the BOP reported to us the discovery of several specific schemes in which inmates in one federal prison talk to inmates in another federal institution a violation of BOP regulations through a conference calling feature. Inmates call an outside party with the conferencing ability. According to David Woody, the Chief of the Inmate Telephone System Branch, the BOP believes three-way calling is the method by which inmates coordinated simultaneous riots at various institutions.
FCI Marianna, Florida identified four telephone numbers that inmates called in order to speak to other inmates. An individual outside the institution provided a series of numbers for inmates to call for a fee and then connected the inmates through a three-way calling feature, thereby allowing inmates to communicate between institutions. These inmates were using this service primarily to establish intimate relationships with inmates in a prison camp. Other inmates were communicating with boyfriends and husbands incarcerated at other institutions.
In addition, in the past few years small businesses have sprouted up offering to arrange call forwarding for families of inmates. One such company has a brochure advertising five-and-ten cents-per-minute calling plans for families who are tired of paying high phone bills from your loved ones in prison. This company apparently is a third-party representative of a larger corporate distributor of wholesale and retail long distance telecommunication services.
Using this company, an inmate calls a local telephone number for a flat fee of 50 cents and the call is automatically transferred to another telephone. ITS recognizes the call as a local call and BOP officers are unaware, by reviewing transactional data, that the inmate was actually connected to a third number.
One of the great ironies of the company discussed above is that it was started by and is run by an inmate incarcerated in a BOP facility. To this day, the inmate uses prison telephones to run his business from prison. The inmate started the business with another inmate who has since been released. Both inmates were disciplined repeatedly for telephone violations and had their telephone privileges suspended for running a business over the telephone. However, both inmates' telephone privileges were always restored.
Finally, a study conducted in April 1998, by a private company called Criminal Investigative Technology (CIT), analyzed calls from the Lorton Prison Inmate Telephone System. Lorton is not a BOP facility, and may not be illustrative of the type of telephone abuse that occurs at BOP facilities. However, CITs findings are included in this report because of the paucity of other statistics on the scope of telephone abuse. This study showed that a very high number of inmate calls may be to targets of ongoing investigations.
CIT analyzed a sample set of calls from four days worth of calls made from Lorton. During the four day period, approximately 3950 inmates made a total of 73,943 calls to 13,810 different telephone numbers. A sample of 1595 of the 13,810 calls were selected for analysis. CIT reported that these numbers were chosen because they were the ones most frequently called by the inmates. These 1593 were then run against an FBI database of telephone numbers belonging to or called by FBI targets of investigation. CIT reported that it found that 495 of the calls, or 31 percent, were numbers in the FBI database, meaning that 31 percent of the Lorton calls analyzed were either calls to targets of investigation or calls to other numbers called by those targets.
In sum, while this data provides an overview of the extent of telephone use and monitoring operations, the BOP has no comprehensive information on the scope of inmate telephone abuse. The BOP data focuses more on the overall numbers of calls by inmates and staff monitoring operations rather than assessing whether this monitoring is effective or whether the extent of telephone abuse by inmates is a significant problem.
Given the importance of determining the scope of inmate telephone abuse, the OIG tried in various ways to collect relevant information. We visited nine BOP institutions of varying security levels that are using ITS.17 We visited four penitentiaries (USP Lewisburg, USP Allenwood, USP Leavenworth, and USP Atlanta); three medium security facilities (FCI Cumberland, FCI Fairton, FCI Allenwood); and two low security facilities (FCI Fort Dix and FCI Petersburg). 18 During those visits, we observed the basic procedures and staffing for telephone monitoring and examined inmate calling statistics. We also investigated each institution's response to evidence of telephone abuse and any proactive measures each took to detect and prevent such abuse. At each institution, we interviewed members of the SIS staff, the telephone monitoring officer (if there was one), officers who engaged in telephone monitoring at a remote location, and the institutions staff who handled the financial and administrative side of ITS.
We also developed a detailed questionnaire for the 66 BOP institutions that use ITS. The questionnaire sought information about the volume of inmate calls and each institutions monitoring practices, staffing, equipment, and other policies related to detection of telephone abuse. Our questionnaire was designed to develop more comprehensive information about individual inmate calling patterns, monitoring practices, and goals in each institution. The questionnaire was completed by members of the SIS staff at each of the 66 institutions.
In addition, we surveyed all FBI and DEA field offices, and the 94 U.S. Attorneys Offices seeking information on cases stemming from inmate telephone use in federal prisons.19 Unfortunately, we found that these offices do not index cases in a way that would identify whether a prison telephone was used to commit a crime. Most of the offices surveyed noted that their responses relied on the memory of the person who answered our questionnaire rather than on a systematic search of their records. Therefore, these responses are more qualitative than quantitative in nature and do not purport to estimate the full scope of the problem.
At the BOP Headquarters level, we interviewed Rob Baysinger, Chief of the Intelligence Section; David Woody, Chief of the Inmate Telephone Section; Michael Atwood, Chief of the Inmate Trust Fund; Michael Cooksey, Assistant Director of the Correctional Programs Division; and OGC attorneys Carolyn Sabol and Doug Curless. These interviews revealed very divergent views. Woody and Atwood, the developers and managers of the telephone system, had little insight into the scope of the problem and had dealt mainly with fraudulent use of the system i.e., inmates circumventing the system and not paying for calls they made rather than the problem of using the telephone to commit crimes. OGC attorney Sabol, who was involved in the Washington v. Reno litigation, said that while telephone misuse occurs, most inmates are using the telephone to stay in touch with their families. Baysinger and Cooksey admitted that telephone misuse was a very serious problem, but stressed that unless the BOP were to prevent inmates from using the telephones entirely and also restrict visiting and mail privileges, limiting telephone privileges alone would not prevent inmates from continuing criminal enterprises from prison.
Although our data gathering efforts cannot provide a complete picture of the extent of the problem, the information we collected clearly indicates that the scope of inmate telephone abuse is larger and more widespread than previously reported. The following details our findings.
BOP regulations permit inmates to make at least one telephone call per month, but in practice the BOP allows unlimited calling. The responses to our survey revealed that inmates make an average of approximately 1.4 calls per day.21 Thus, with an average of 1,282 inmates at each surveyed institution, inmates at each institution placed approximately 2,000 calls every day.
At the nine institutions we visited, we found that 72 percent of inmates used the telephone less than 300 minutes during March 1998.22 Twenty-four percent of inmates were on the telephone from 300 to 999 minutes during the same month, while four percent of the inmates were on the telephone from 1,000 to 4,000 minutes. Approximately three inmates per institution spent more than two hours a day or more than 4,000 minutes during the month on the telephone. In fact, we found that 27 inmates at the nine institutions spent over 66 hours during the month on the telephone and that none of the institutions had done anything about this fact or were even aware of it. In addition, the OIG survey of BOP ITS facilities found that an average of 12 inmates at each of the 66 facilities made 25 or more calls per day. [For an overview of calling and monitoring patterns at the ITS institutions we surveyed, see Table 1.]
At the nine institutions we visited, inmate telephone calls were limited to 15 minutes. However, we found no requirement for a set period of time between calls. Consequently, inmates cut off by the ITS system after 15 minutes could immediately redial the number to continue the conversation.
Through our interviews of BOP staff and inmates, we learned that inmates use at least two methods to avoid having the telephone number they are ultimately connected to detected by the BOP: three-way calling and call forwarding. In three-way calling, the inmate dials a telephone number from his approved calling list. The recipient of the call then dials a third party and joins all three people together. If the second telephone number called is a long distance call, the party the inmate called first rather than the inmate is billed for the toll call.
In call forwarding, the inmate dials a telephone number from his approved list which, because it has a call forwarding feature activated, automatically transfers the call to a pre-determined number. Again, the first called party not the inmate is billed for any toll charges. The BOP prohibits the use of three-way calling and call forwarding to ensure that prison telephones are not misused and that inmates are financially responsible for their calls. However, the BOP's current telephone system can only detect the first number the inmate dials, not any subsequent numbers to which the call is connected. Only by listening to the call, and detecting that additional numbers are being dialed or third parties are speaking on the line, can BOP staff detect call forwarded or three way calls.
Our review found that the BOPs monitoring of inmate telephone calls is inadequate in various ways. The BOP listens to less than four percent of all inmate calls and clearly has insufficient staff to significantly increase that percentage. Even with substantially more staff, only a small percentage of the approximately 200,000 inmate calls made every day could be monitored.
We also found in our survey that even though inmate telephones were available an average of 18 hours per day, the institutions had staff assigned to listen to telephone calls an average of only 14 hours on weekdays and 12 hours on weekends. The nine institutions we visited had no telephone monitors on duty during the evening hours the time when statistics show inmates place the most calls. Our survey also indicates that 16 of the 66 ITS institutions assign staff to listen to inmate telephone calls less than 50 percent of the time that the telephones are in operation. While all calls are recorded and can be listened to later, we found that this rarely occurred.
In addition, during our site visits we found the BOP staff responsible for monitoring inmate telephone calls were not sufficiently trained on the monitoring equipment or monitoring procedures. We did not talk to any telephone monitor who had received anything other than on-the-job training. We found no monitors who received formal instruction on the best way to monitor, how to recognize suspicious activities or coded inmate language, which inmates should be monitored, or how to detect three-way calls. We found that the position of telephone monitoring officer is generally a rotating assignment, typically lasting 18 months. Several telephone monitors we interviewed said that by the time they learn to effectively monitor inmate calls, their rotation is nearing its end. They suggested that the telephone monitoring position should be a permanent assignment.
Of the nine prisons we visited, only USP Leavenworth had a permanent telephone monitoring officer. Not surprisingly, we found that USP Leavenworth's monitoring program was far superior to the other prisons we visited. Because of her experience and knowledge of the inmates and how they use the telephones, the telephone monitor at Leavenworth is able to be more proactive in her monitoring efforts. She tracks the calls of certain inmates using the alert function on ITS that notifies her whenever those inmates make a call; she routinely runs reports to identify persons making excessive calls and monitors those inmates calls; she cross-references a visiting room database with abuser reports and telephone monitoring reports filed by remote monitoring officers. By contrast, the staff telephone monitors with whom we spoke at other institutions did not use tools that were available to them, such as the alert function that would notify the monitoring officer with an audible alarm whenever specified inmates were using the telephone. Three of the nine telephone monitors were not even aware that ITS had such a function.
We also found that remote monitoring officers who are assigned collateral duties of monitoring some inmate calls generally monitor such calls in a perfunctory way and do the minimum required by their post orders. For example, at USP Atlanta, the post orders expect (but do not require) each officer to listen to and file telephone monitoring reports for six or seven telephones calls each shift. That would result in 135 telephone monitoring reports each 24-hour period. Instead, we were told that between zero and 16 reports were filed each day at this institution. In addition, many of the reports written by these officers that we reviewed were virtually useless, containing notations like call in Spanish, or sex talk. Reports such as these do little to help the BOPs monitoring efforts.
Also at USP Atlanta, we found that five of the nine telephones used for remote monitoring of calls were broken and no work orders had been submitted to repair the majority of them. The telephone monitor in Atlanta told the OIG that it was his opinion that the officers who were supposed to use the monitoring equipment were breaking the equipment so they would not have to monitor inmate calls. We contacted the monitor again several weeks after our visit, and he informed us that the remote monitoring telephones had not yet been fixed.
Many of the inmate calls are in foreign languages. None of the facilities we visited had monitoring staff fluent in French, Russian, Chinese, or Arabic. Many BOP facilities do not have monitors who are fluent in Spanish, despite the fact that many have a significant Spanish-speaking population.23
At the institutions we visited, we found that virtually no review is performed on the inmates telephone calling lists, not even on those of inmates who, because of the nature of their criminal backgrounds and their contacts on the outside, are likely to continue their criminal activities. Inmates are permitted frequent changes to their telephone lists, and BOP staff normally approve the changes without review. None of the institutions we visited asked the SIS office to review inmate telephone lists.
Even though BOP associate wardens have the authority to block numbers from being placed on inmates telephone lists, we found no evidence at the institutions we visited that calls to any numbers were blocked because of a danger to the public. The only blocks on telephone numbers we discovered were those instigated by the SIS as a result of inmate misconduct, such as inmates calling radio stations to request specific songs that served as a signal to a person outside the prison or inmates using the telephone to access bank accounts for fraudulent purposes.
We found that many facilities make little or no effort to monitor telephone use by high-risk inmates. For example, in response to our survey, 27 percent of the institutions reported that they do not use the alert function on the ITS system that informs BOP staff when certain inmates are using the telephone. At the nine institutions we visited, we found that there were few proactive investigations of any high-risk inmates use of the telephones. We found that several of the nine institutions made no attempt to even identify inmates who posed a high risk of using the telephones for criminal activity.
Former head of BOP Intelligence Craig Trout told us that ideally the BOP would have full background information on inmates from law enforcement, would identify at-risk inmates, and would establish a search file to determine if the inmates were contacting previously identified co-conspirators or known criminals. He said, however, that the pre-sentence investigations (PSI) reports prepared by the U.S. Probation Office for sentencing purposes are not sufficiently detailed to provide the BOP with information to target inmates who are likely to continue their criminal enterprises while incarcerated. He said more than 62 percent of BOP inmates are convicted of drug offenses and that their PSIs are usually boilerplate reports. Trout stated that the SIS offices do not have the resources to conduct independent investigations into the backgrounds of inmates and, without some information in the PSI that would flag the necessity to do so, would not undertake such an investigation.
The SENTRY computer system has a category for telephone abuse to identify inmates who pose a significant threat to the safety of the institution and the public based on their criminal history, skills, or behavior. Inmates who pose such a risk because of their abuse of telephone privileges are also entered into the database. However, in our survey of 66 BOP institutions, only 12 reported having a written policy describing when an inmate should be placed in the phone abuse category. As of November 2, 1998, 322 of the BOPs 122,000 inmates were listed in the SENTRY category for telephone abuse. According to SENTRY data, 36 percent of BOP institutions have no inmates in the phone abuse category; 45 percent have 1-5 inmates in the category; 8 percent have 6-10 inmates; and 11 percent have 11 or more.
All of the institutions we visited ran excessive calling reports, which list inmates who made more than the institutions average number of telephone calls in a given period. These excessive calling reports can provide information suggesting illicit activity or failure to perform work assignments. We found that the SIS offices at these nine institutions normally did not take any action to follow-up on the excessive callers e.g., to listen to recordings or live monitor the calls made by excessive callers to determine whether they were abusing telephone privileges or conducting illegal activities. We found that the most common SIS response to an excessive volume of calls was to ensure that the caller did not have access to telephones during his work shift.
Our review found that monitoring the telephones and determining the scope of inmate abuse is a low priority for SIS staff. We found that the primary focus of the SIS offices is maintaining the security of the institution, not preventing crimes outside the institution committed by BOP inmates. The SIS offices that we visited concentrated on internal investigations, such as violence among inmates or against guards, the introduction of drugs and other contraband into the institutions and the prevention of escapes. Even the Special Investigative Supervisors Manual known as the SIS staff bible focuses primarily on detecting and deterring crime in prison and devotes little attention to inmates conducting criminal activities outside prison. Outside of urging SIS staff to be proactive, the manual fails to provide any techniques to identify inmates who are, or may potentially be, involved in committing crimes outside of the institution.
Most institutions surveyed said that they do not have the resources to undertake proactive investigations. For example, a typical SIS office we visited normally had only between one and three officers, depending on rotational assignments, to investigate 1520 active inmate cases and 6 active cases into BOP staff members. Some SIS offices also spend significant time fulfilling subpoena requests, which takes time away from investigating and preventing telephone abuse. When an inmate's telephone conversations are subpoenaed by a law enforcement agency, the subpoena is reviewed by the institution's legal office and forwarded to the SIS office for fulfillment. The SIS must locate the requested calls on cassette tapes or reel-to-reel tapes, record the targeted calls, and complete the appropriate paperwork. An SIS officer at USP Allenwood estimated that five hours of inmate telephone conversations takes SIS staff 1012 hours to locate and record. We were also told that fulfilling subpoenas takes priority over investigations.
Even taking into account the time needed to fulfill subpoena requests, the SIS offices we visited appear to be taking few steps to address telephone abuse. They were not targeting any inmates for special telephone monitoring, and, as noted above, are not using the ITS alert system to inform monitors of calls made by high-risk inmates. While the SIS offices at all the institutions we visited attempted to check their telephone records for excessive callers on a regular basis, they did not review calls made by those inmates or take other action when they discovered inmates who used the telephone excessively.
From January through October of 1998, 3,217 inmates, or approximately three percent of BOP inmates, were charged with Series 406 violations, which includes both telephone and mail abuse. The BOP could not provide us with the number of Series 406 violations relating only to telephone abuse.
The sanctions imposed by BOP for violations of telephone privileges are not standardized and vary widely by institution. In addition, the punishments for such violations are generally quite lenient, even after repeated violations.
At most of the institutions we visited, we found that only recently had there been emphasis on writing incident reports for telephone abuse. Moreover, several SIS officers told us that because telephone abuse is in the lowest category of infractions, inmates do not worry about getting disciplined since the sanctions are not severe. We also asked the U.S. Attorneys Offices and the FBI and the DEA whether they were aware of any disciplinary action taken by the BOP in the criminal cases involving inmates telephone use that they had reported to us. For virtually all of the cases, they said that they were unaware of any discipline imposed in addition to the criminal prosecution.
According to former BOP Intelligence Chief Trout and current Intelligence Chief Rob Baysinger, there are several reasons why a relatively low number of inmates have been charged with telephone abuse. First, many less serious violations are resolved informally and are not recorded in SENTRY. In addition, not all wardens emphasize writing telephone abuse incident reports. Finally, inmates who use the telephone in order to commit a crime or more serious rule infraction are usually charged with the more serious offense and are not charged with telephone abuse. The BOP is not able to provide information about the use of telephones to commit crimes or more serious BOP infractions unless the inmate is also specifically charged with a 400-level telephone abuse violation.
Based on the BOP statistics, we were unable to determine how many cases involving the
use of prison telephones were referred by the BOP for prosecution. Although the SIS manual
requires staff to closely track cases the BOP refers for criminal prosecution, our review
found that the BOP does not consistently do so. BOP Headquarters also could not provide us
with statistics on the total number of criminal referrals made from its institutions,
whether the cases were prosecuted or declined, and the outcome of the prosecuted cases. As
a result, we were not able to make any comprehensive assessment about what type of cases
are being made by the SIS, what type of cases are referred for prosecution, and the
outcome of those referrals.
To further investigate the scope of inmate
telephone abuse, we sought information from the FBI, which has primary investigative
jurisdiction for the prosecution of criminal acts within federal correctional facilities.
We surveyed the FBI field offices about any cases in which inmates facilitated a crime
from prison by using the telephone. We also interviewed FBI special agents with experience
investigating these types of cases. We first describe the information provided by the
Williamsport, Pennsylvania FBI office which handles a high percentage of the FBI cases
involving crimes in prison.
According to Michael Hahn, the Resident Agent in Charge of the FBIs Williamsport office, 40 percent of all FBI cases involving crimes in prison are investigated by his office. This office is close to USP Lewisburg and the Allenwood prison complex. Four of the seven FBI agents in the office work exclusively on prison cases.
Hahn told us that, in his experience, the combination of unmonitored contact visits, telephones, and mail that is not inspected because it is marked legal mail makes it possible for criminal enterprises to be run from prison. Hahn said that when large scale drug dealers are sentenced to serve time in Lewisburg, all you do is change his address and his phone number by putting him in prison. He stated that drug dealers can conduct business as usual and may even feel a bit more secure behind bars than they did on the street. In addition, he noted that inmates make new criminal contacts while in prison.
Retired FBI Special Agent Dick Rodgers, the Williamsport case agent who handled the Rayful Edmond investigation, stated that he would be surprised if even 25 percent of the inmate calls from Lewisburg were legitimate calls to family and friends. He said that the Edmond case was the tip of the iceberg. Both Rodgers and Hahn cited several cases with facts similar to the Edmond case, including two involving inmates who used prison telephones to continue large-scale drug rings from USP Lewisburg. Another case they described involved the use of the telephones and mail to conduct a tax fraud scheme from Federal Prison Camp Allenwood. Hahn named an inmate currently incarcerated in Lewisburg who he said is likely running a large drug organization, but who uses other inmates to place his calls in order to avoid detection.
Hahn and Rodgers told the OIG that they were not aware of any significant cases that had been discovered as a result of BOP's telephone monitoring efforts. They said that the FBI's cases in Lewisburg and Allenwood all began with intelligence from some other source usually an informant. Hahn and Rodgers believed that it is the BOPs job, not the FBIs, to target certain inmates calls for suspicious activity and refer evidence of criminal conduct to the FBI for investigation. However, both believed that the BOP did not perform this task effectively. They criticized the BOPs current policy of unlimited telephone privileges for inmates, especially at the penitentiary level. They think privileges should be sharply restricted, with inmates limited to a maximum of ten 15-minute calls a month.
The OIG also requested
information from FBI field offices regarding any cases they had investigated that involved
abuse of telephones by federal inmates. The 16 divisions that responded reported 44
investigations between 1996 and 1998. Of these 44 cases, 27 involved introduction of
narcotics into an institution arranged in advance by telephone; 11 involved drug
conspiracies outside prison being conducted by telephone by inmates from inside prison; 2
involved financial fraud; and 1 involved bribery and obstruction of justice using the
telephone.24 As discussed previously, the FBI records are not
indexed according to whether a prison telephone was used. These reports are therefore
based on the memories of the reporting officials. Some examples of cases they reported
[For a full summary of the cases reported by the FBI, see Appendix 3.]
Similar to our query of the FBI, we asked the DEA to provide us with information about drug cases it has investigated that involved federal inmates use of prison telephones. In response, DEA Headquarters sent a memorandum to all field offices requesting that they identify such cases. Eleven out of 21 DEA offices responded. However, because of the way in which the DEA collected its information, it was not possible to identify all of the cases that DEA handles which involve BOP inmates or the use of prison telephones.
The DEA field offices reported 12 cases at federal facilities and 13 cases in which
federal prisoners housed temporarily at state or local facilities used the telephones to
commit crimes. According to the DEA, none of the inmates' criminal activity was detected
by the BOP. The DEA responses indicated that restrictions were placed on the inmates'
telephone privileges in only 2 of the 12 cases after discovery of the criminal activity.
The DEA field office in Hawaii made the following comment: Information obtained from previous criminal investigations as well as intelligence information and confidential source debriefings indicate that the majority of incarcerated narcotics traffickers, who assume leadership roles within their respective organizations, remain in contact with co-conspirators and continue to conduct their drug trafficking by use of the detention facility telephones. [For a full summary of the DEA cases, see Appendix 4.]
In 1995, following the prosecutions of Rayful Edmond, District of Columbia Assistant United States Attorney Mary Pat Brown conducted an informal e-mail survey of other United States Attorneys offices asking for information about prosecutions in which inmates had used prison telephones to commit crimes. She received information about approximately 40 such prosecutions. The cases included drug introductions and frauds on fellow inmates, wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, distribution of heroin and other drugs, bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank robbery, firearms, and conspiracy to commit terrorist activities. Five of the approximately 40 offenses involved crimes inside a federal correctional facility; the remaining 35 prosecutions concerned inmates involved in offenses committed outside prison. Only 5 of the cases were initiated by the BOP; 27 were initiated by other law enforcement agencies; and it was unclear who initiated the investigation in the remaining 8 prosecutions. [For more detailed information gathered from this survey, see Table 2.]
To supplement the information obtained from the informal 1995 survey, we surveyed all 94 USAOs about prosecutions involving inmates use of prison telephones. We sought information on the role of the USAOs in the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases of inmate telephone abuse, the details of the prosecution, and the BOPs role in those cases.
We received responses from 72 of the 94 offices surveyed (78%). Of those responding, 22 said they had not prosecuted any cases involving inmates and telephone use; 15 of these 22 stated that they do not have a federal correctional facility within their judicial district. The remaining 50 responding offices reported 117 prosecutions of inmates using BOP telephones to facilitate a crime. We were able to determine the manner in which the crimes were uncovered in 104 out of the 117 cases. Of those 104, only 28 were discovered by the BOP (less than 26%). Of the 28 cases discovered by the BOP, 22 involved attempted drug introductions into institutions. This was indicative of what we observed to be the SIS's priority maintaining the security of the institution. The SIS placed far less emphasis on detecting or deterring crimes committed by inmates outside the institutions.
Twenty-nine of the 117 cases charged inmates with drug trafficking offenses outside prison. Several of these cases involved high-level drug dealers who continued to run large and well-organized drug and money laundering organizations from inside prison. For example, one prosecution involved the head of the San Antonio division of the Mexican Mafia. Another involved the leader of the El Rukn gang in Chicago. 25
Of the 117 cases, 9 included prosecutions for murder or attempted murders arranged by inmates over prison telephones. An additional 10 inmates were prosecuted for schemes to threaten witnesses and 7 for attempts to influence the testimony of witnesses. Twenty-five of the cases involved fraud schemes, many involving credit cards. In another case, an inmate directed by prison telephone a fraudulent employment matching service scheme that involved approximately $1.6 million. Another inmate used prison telephones to swindle trucking companies out of more than $100,000. In one case an inmate used prison telephones to attempt to arrange the murder of two witnesses and a judge and to pay for the execution with illegal firearms. Finally, as discussed above, the OIG learned of an investigation in which an inmate is running a call-forwarding business from prison. [For a full listing of the cases reported by the U.S. Attorneys Offices who answered the OIG survey, see Table 3.]
A federal prosecutor from the Los Angeles USAO who works mostly on prison cases, told the OIG that abuse of the telephone to commit crime is rarely caught by the BOP. He said that the BOP could identify inmates who use the phones to commit serious crime. For example, he said members of the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist group classified as a disruptive group by the BOP, are poster boys for phone abuse. He said there are only about 30 made members of the Aryan Brotherhood in the BOP system, and only about ten of those are truly influential. The prosecutor told the OIG that the BOP could train staff to monitor all calls made by these influential members. He stated that part of the problem is that BOP is a big bureaucracy and does not think creatively, and that BOP staff do not consider themselves law enforcement officers. Their focus, he believes, is not on detecting criminal activity that occurs outside the prison, but rather on keeping the institution running smoothly.
15 The SENTRY system is a BOP computer database that contains vital information about each inmate. BOP attempts to keep the database current, so that consulting it should indicate exactly where an inmate is housed at all times. It includes information such as the crime for which the inmate was convicted, any orders for separation from other inmates, disciplinary violations in prison, and special skills or relationships which might make the inmate a danger to the safety of the institution or the public.
16 The Security Threat Group (STG) categories exist to notify institution staff of potential problems with an inmate. Examples of these STG categories are affiliations with various known gangs or criminal enterprises, special skills such as lock-picking or bomb-making, or a history of misconduct in prison, such as sexual assault or escape attempts.
17 We did not focus on the institutions without ITS because they will eventually be converted to ITS. We therefore wanted to concentrate our review on the institutions withthe more advanced technology.
18 BOP institutions are categorized according to the security level of each facility; minimum security, low security, medium security, high security and administrative. Federal Correctional Institutions (FCI) are either low or medium security facilities; U.S. Penitentiaries (USP) are high security facilities.
19 Seventy-five percent of the U.S. Attorneys Offices responded.
20 The OIG prepared a detailed summary of its findings regarding each institution we visited. Because of security concerns, however, this summary will be provided only to the BOP. We have also removed some other limited information from the report that the BOP believed would compromise security. We do not believe that these redactions have affected the content of the report.
21 The BOP maintains that 1.1 calls per inmate per day is a more accurate figure because the higher number takes into account calls that were placed but not connected.
22 We selected 300 minutes as a threshold because a proposal made by the 1997 wardens working group discussed in Chapter Six, infra, would limit inmate calls to 300 minutes or less per month. Three hundred minutes equates to approximately five 15-minute telephone calls per week.
23 The BOP asserts that it can make available to institutions staff fluent in a multitude of languages in order to translate calls for monitoring staff. Yet, we did not find that monitors request such translation when reviewing calls on a routine basis. The SIS staff we interviewed reported that most foreign language calls are not translated.
24 Because the remaining three investigations are ongoing, details were not provided by the FBI.
25 The El Rukn case illustrates the seriousness of the telephone abuse problem. (US v. Leon McAnderson, et al.) In that case, even though Jeff Fort was serving a prison sentence at FCI Bastrop, TX in 1987, he was able to maintain control over the Chicago street gang El Rukn from prison through extensive telephone contact with gang members. After hearing that Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan had received $5 million from the Libyan government, Fort developed a plan to perform acts of terrorism within the United States in return for an annual payment of $1 million from Libya. In telephone conversations from inside prison, Fort discussed destroying a federal building, blowing up an airplane, killing a Milwaukee alderman, and committing a "killing here and there" with his fellow gang members. Fort instructed gang members to meet with representatives from the Libyan government, which the gang members did on two occasions. Fort also instructed the gang members to purchase a hand-held rocket launcher, which they also did. Fort and several El Rukn gang members were charged in a 50-count indictment for conspiracy to commit terrorist acts, and using the telephone in furtherance of the conspiracy. Fort was convicted and sentenced to an additional 80 years in prison.