Originally created 06/08/01

Indictment links inmates to drug scheme



Inmates at the federal prison in Edgefield have been operating drug and illegal sports-gambling rings with the help of friends and relatives on the outside, according to a grand jury indictment opened Thursday.

The 15-count indictment handed down in May was left sealed until most of the suspects were arrested, U.S. Attorney Scott N. Schools said.

Six inmates allegedly were involved in the arranging of shipments of heroin from Puerto Rico and cocaine and marijuana from other sources, the indictment charged.

Authorities say the drugs went to friends and relatives outside the prison and were ultimately transferred to female couriers fraudulently listed as legitimate visitors to the inmates. The women allegedly smuggled the drugs into the prison.

The drugs, transferred during visits, were sold inside the prison.

At least three of the same inmates also ran a sports betting operation, the indictment said. In all, 18 people were charged with conspiracy to launder the money made by the crime rings. Among them were one inmate's parents - the mother accused of running drugs for her son and the father accused of providing him betting lines and odds.

More arrests are expected before the investigation is over, Mr. Schools said.

The inmates charged are Jorge Gonzalez-Vasquez, Roberto Medina, David Crews, Roger Coleman, Thurman Ford and Raymond Clay.

The U.S. attorney said Daniel Gonzalez-Vasquez and Juan Carlos Rodriguez are accused of supplying Puerto Rico native Jorge Gonzalez-Vasquez with heroin from the island.

He saidMr. Crews, who authorities allege ran the gambling ring, is from Winston-Salem, N.C., where his parents live. Jerry and Betty Crews also face criminal charges in connection with the alleged illegal businesses.

The indictment says Desmond Cunningham, of Columbia, received heroin from Mrs. Crews and gave it to Tameika Gordon, Bevelyn Moorer and Linda Reed, who also are from Columbia, to take to David Crews.

North Carolinians Kristin Shamel, Carol Rothrock, Randall Shumaker and Betty Glass also are named in the indictment as playing unspecified roles.

The inmates will be arraigned June 21 in federal court. Other defendants have already made initial appearances before federal magistrates in Columbia, Winston-Salem, and Puerto Rico except for Mr. Cunningham, who is expected to appear in court today. Mr. Schools said more details about the prison case and a related crack and cocaine ring in Columbia will emerge at Mr. Cunningham's detention hearing.

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum of 40 years in prison and fines as high as $2 million. With 15 charges in all, that could mean hefty sentences for those named in multiple counts.

The alleged inside crimes were investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigations Division; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; Richland County Sheriff's Department; South Carolina National Guard; Columbia Police Department; and U.S. Bureau of Prisons, all of which worked together on the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force.

The disclosure of possible crime rings came after another serious incident at the Edgefield prison in late May, when an inmate fatally stabbed another with a makeshift ice pick, eyewitnesses said.

Ronnie Bazel Jr., 25, of Athens, Tenn., who was serving a 10-year sentence for conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine base, was pronounced dead at Edgefield County Hospital less than an hour after he was stabbed in the chest.

Willie Earl Clark, 53, of Chicago, serving 25 years for possessing a firearm despite a felony record, surrendered his weapon to prison staff after the stabbing, prison officials said. He is in the Special Housing Unit while the FBI and corrections staff continue their investigation.

Prison spokesman Mike Smith said Thursday that no formal charges have been filed in the May 28 stabbing and that no motive has been determined.

Reach Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.