Inmates at the Alexandria jail can forget about receiving care packages. From now on, it’s only flat papers for the prisoners. Sheriff Dana Lawhorne announced a new and more restrictive postal policy this month after an Alexandria police detective uncovered a secret scheme that smuggled an undisclosed amount of heroin into the city jail through using the United States mail. Although each package was inspected before being delivered to the inmates, Lawhorne said, those involved in the conspiracy found a way to circumvent the inspectors.
"The way they were doing it was quite ingenious," said Lawhorne, who declined to elaborate on the method. "I would call it sneaky."
In addition to implementing the more restrictive flat-package only policy, Lawhorne asked the Arlington Sheriff’s Office to conduct an extensive review of security procedures at the jail. Meanwhile, the Alexandria Police Department and the commonwealth’s attorney worked with Lawhorne’s staff to bring indictments on four individuals who have been charged with conspiracy to smuggle heroin into the Alexandria Detention Center. The four individuals named in the grand jury indictments face anywhere from five to 40 years incarceration if they are found guilty of the charges.
"Drugs are usually smuggled to inmates through visitors," said Larry Traylor, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections. "We’ve also had cases where employees are involved, but I can’t recall hearing about a case in which drugs are smuggled through the mail."
ACCORDING TO THE FOUR indictments, a Centreville woman conspired with three inmates of the Alexandria jail to smuggle the heroin into the Alexandria Detention Center. On July 18, a special grand jury indicted Heidee Farrish, 22, on multiple drug offenses, including conspiracy to distribute heroin, sale of heroin and conspiracy to deliver drugs to an inmate. The special grand jury also indicted three inmates: Camilo Gomez, who was serving time for identify theft; Mark Esposito, who was in jail for distributing OxyContin; and Jesse Boner, who a state court found guilty of felony petty larceny.
"Contraband has always been a problem for jails," said Ken Kerle, managing editor for American Jails, a magazine published by the American Jail Association. "And inmates are always thinking up new ways to smuggle it in."
From March to June, according to the indictments, Farrish conspired with Gomez, Esposito and Boner to use the mail to deliver heroin into the jail. A detective in the Alexandria’s Vice and Narcotics Unit alerted Lawhorne to the possibility the heroin may have been smuggled into his jail in June, and sheriff’s deputies began working with police investigators and Virginia prosecutors. Lawhorne hailed the teamwork as a sign that the city’s public-safety officials were able to work together to solve problems.
"The introduction of contraband into a jail facility is a breach of security and requires a serious and targeted response," said Lawhorne. "I commend the efforts of the detective who discovered the alleged conspiracy and my staff who assisted the police to uncover the illegal scheme."