Georgia inmates and prison guards face drugs and bribery charges

(Reuters) - A dozen people, including two former employees of the Georgia Department of Corrections and seven current and former inmates were indicted on charges involving the use of cellphones to conduct drug trafficking, extortion, wire fraud and identity theft from behind bars, the Justice Department said on Thursday.

Inmates, with the help of prison employees are increasingly using smuggled cellphones to run criminal operations from jail, according to a news release by the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of Georgia announcing the unsealing of two indictments.

U.S. Attorney John Horn said in the release that state corrections employees at Phillips and Valdosta state prisons helped smuggle cell phones and other contraband to inmates in exchange for bribes.

The phones had Internet access that enabled the prisoners to coordinate drug transactions, commit identity theft and credit card fraud, as well as post on social media and buy products online, Horn said.

The prison employees allegedly helped smuggle methamphetamine, prescription pain medication, marijuana, liquor, tobacco, and take-out food into the prisons, according to one indictment.

One of the accused former prison employees, Anekra Artina Williams, 20, a guard at Valdosta State Prison, was charged with extortion and distributing methamphetamine and extortion.

Charonda Edwards, 29, a kitchen worker at Phillips State Prison, in Buford, Georgia, was charged with extortion and conspiring to distribute methamphetamine and marijuana.

One indictment focusing on Valdosta State Prison alleged that inmate Donald Howard Hinley, 51, coordinated a network of illegal drug suppliers and couriers to broker drug deals in Atlanta and in other areas of Georgia.

Hinley also is accused of using a smuggled cellphone to call an inmate at another prison to order the murder of a "snitch" who was possibly going to testify in court against his girlfriend.

"Hinley allegedly ordered his associate to 'shoot every one' of the witness’ family members," the press release said.

The other indictment charged two jailed members of the so-called Ghostface Gang at Phillips State Prison in Buford, Georgia, of using cellphones to traffic drugs and commit fraud.

In one scheme an inmate used a cellphone to call to a woman and pretended to be a credit card representative handling fraud cases. He allegedly obtained her credit card number and used it to transfer $2,200 to another credit card he controlled.

(Reporting by David Adams; Edting by Bill Trott)