The FBI has arrested 46 former and current Department of Corrections officers after a two-year long undercover operation named “Ghost Guard.” The arrests took place across nine correctional facilities in Georgia on Thursday morning. Five of the 46 officers arrested by the FBI were members of the “Cobra unit,” an elite squad aimed at busting drug deals in prisons. The remainder of the offices arrested were line guards who had direct contact with the Georgia inmates.
FBI offices entered the nine Georgia prisons around dawn Thursday for the shakedown in what is being described as part of the biggest corruption bust in Georgia corrections history, if not the biggest, reports WSBTV.
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia John Horn has voiced his concern at 46 officers being arrested.
“It is truly troubling that so many corrections officers from across Georgia could be so willing to sell their oaths, to sell their badges for personal profit,” he said.
The 46 officers, along with two civilians and one inmate, have been arrested for smuggling in contraband including mobile cellphones, liquor, weapons, and drugs into the correctional facilities. According to CNN the trafficking involving guards is said to include multiple kilos of cocaine and meth in exchange for thousands of dollars in bribe money. The 46 arrested officers are accused of delivering drugs outside of the corrections facilities in what is being called a “staggering corruption within Georgia Department of Corrections institutions,” said Horn.
The inmates used the smuggled contraband, mainly the mobile phones, to commit money laundering, identity theft, and wire fraud from inside the facilities’ walls. Britt Johnson, special agent in charge of the Atlanta FBI office, told CNN that mobile phones being smuggled into prisons are a tremendous problem that creates a huge challenge for law enforcement.
“After you chase down, arrest and prosecute criminals and put them away for life, and they continue to direct crime on the streets from their jail cells…when an inmate can reach beyond prison walls and threaten and intimidate witnesses and prosecutors, it’s a breakdown of the judicial system,” he said. Johnson also named mobile phones being smuggled inside prisons as the reason for the Atlanta 2014 hostage-taking incident.
The operation which started in May, 2014, saw 46 offices arrested as part of a crackdown focusing on abolishing the continued use of cellphones in prisons. The Georgia Department of Corrections Commission, Homer Bryson, says he wants better background checks for all prison workers.
Assistant Commissioner Timothy Ward agreed that smuggled cellphones are causing huge problems inside correctional facilities.
“This war on cellphones, we’re taking it very seriously and we’re going to continue to root out cellphones and all the corruption in the state of Georgia in the prison system,” he said.
The Thursday bust is part of a larger public corruption investigation into Georgia Correctional Facilities. The FBI, in collaboration with the Georgia Department of Corrections, were able to gain inside information of the corruption going on in the corrections facilities during their two year investigation, that cost close to $1 million, by an agent posing as a member of the Mexican Cartel.
The 46 arrested officers along with the two civilians and one inmate were expected to go in front of a federal magistrate on Thursday. While they await trial, they have been turned over to the Federal Marshals at undisclosed locations across Georgia.
[Photo by Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images]