The FBI has confiscated a cell phone that has been used by at least one D.C. jail inmate thousands of times since last April.
According to a search warrant affidavit, agents learned of the phone when an inmate was overheard on an FBI wiretap talking from the jail.
Inmates are not permitted to have or use cell phones, but the use of the smuggled devices has become a constant and serious problem at the sprawling complex in Southeast D.C.
Last July, a D.C. police detective working on an FBI task force applied for a warrant to search three cells at the jail and the adjacent central treatment facility after a man named Kevin Black was recorded three times on an FBI wiretap.
In one of the calls to the target phone, the affidavit says Black was heard saying a "C O or (corrections officer) was coming.”
The affidavit says toll records show the phone Black was on had been used "thousands of times" between April and July of this year.
Three cells were searched, but the phone was not found. Instead, it was discovered inside a sock Black had hidden in his pants.
"My reaction to that is that it is very serious,” said Thomas Faust, the Director of D.C. Corrections in an interview Tuesday. “My reaction to it is that we must and will continue to be very aggressive in our correctional practices to seek out and search and find cell phones and other contraband.”
The search for the phone took on some urgency when investigators learned Black, Alan Fisher and Lance Robinson, all locked up on drug conspiracy charges, were planning further criminal activity, and according to the affidavit, were planning on "harming" a "co-defendant" because of his "perceived cooperation" with the government.
It is just one of the reasons why confiscating cell phones have become a top priority.
"We now have K-9's that are trained to sniff lithium batteries and can detect cell phones,” said Faust. "We've (also) implemented permanent search teams that do shakedowns, searches of cells on an ongoing basis.”
In 2010, authorities found 79 cell phones in the jail -- that number fell to 59 phones confiscated over the last two years.
How are they getting into the jail? It is a constant and ongoing investigation, but in the last two years, four corrections officers have been prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for smuggling in contraband.
It includes Jonathan Womble, who admitted to smuggling in a "balloon containing heroin, marijuana, a cell phone and cell phone charger.”
Faust says he is now looking into technology being used in Baltimore called Managed Access. Once installed, it would allow calls to be made from authorized numbers, but capture and drop all calls from numbers the system does not recognize.
So, how are these phones being charged inside the jail? No, there are no electrical outlets in cells. Instead, Faust says inmates are using clever makeshift ways to tap into the electrical wiring.
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