HOUSTON - Investigators say the deaths of at least two inmates in the Harris County Jail have been linked to drug-laced papers that were allegedly delivered by a retired attorney.
Ronald Lewis, 77, is now facing two charges of having a prohibited substance in a correctional facility.
Authorities say Lewis had 11 sheets of paper in his possession when he was arrested on Friday, Nov. 17 at the Harris County Jail. The paper is now being tested by the Texas Ranger for confirmation of narcotics.
Lewis is a retired criminal defense attorney. He was seen walking into a Harris County courtroom Monday morning to face his own felony charges.
"In July, our Detentions Criminal Investigation and Security Division developed evidence that an attorney was possibly supplying sheets of paper laced with ecstasy and synthetic marijuana to people in jail during in person visits," said Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez during a news conference.
Court documents say at least two inmates died as a result of the substances that Lewis allegedly brought into the jail. Several other inmates reported adverse side effects, according to documents.
Court documents identified the substance as methoxy dimethyl oxobutane.
"The laced sheets of mail were often disguised as legal mail or other forms of legal documents. Inmates would pay the attorneys $200 to $500 to bring in the laced papers," said HCSO Lt. J Wheeler.
"Mr. Lewis visited 14 inmates from July 2023 until November 2023. During the investigation, approximately 154 sheets of paper were believed to be laced with narcotics and confiscated," Wheeler continued.
According to Kimberly Smith, a prosecutor with the Harris County District Attorney's Office, the relationship between the inmates and Lewis is unclear.
"As of record, these are not his clients. We do not know the relationship between this defendant, this attorney, or these clients. But as of record, they are not his clients," Smith said.
Gonzalez says he created a task force to fight crime and dangerous narcotics inside the jail in March after receiving backlash for an increase in jail deaths.
"These sheets of paper are laced in contraband, a lot of times we don't know what type of contraband. We've seen several types. We've seen k2, spice, synthetic marijuana, things of that nature. Sometimes we've seen PCP, so the danger of this is this attorney is bringing in paper, laced in contraband, and sometimes, a lot of times, he doesn't even know what the paper is laced in," Smith said. "Therefore, the inmate is receiving paper, ingesting it, not knowing what the substance is. And it is extremely dangerous and sometimes deadly. We've had close to 20 deaths, just this year in the Harris County jail, and a lot of those have been drug-related."
According to a HCSO spokesperson, 27 inmates died last year, and so far, this year, 19 have died.
Gonzalez says the jail has tightened a number of security measures, including adding three drug sniffing dogs and implementing stricter protocols for jail mail.
"If attorneys are coming on site, we’ve made a copy machine available for them. They can make copies. They can handle it. We’ve given them envelopes. They can secure it and then take it up to the floors. What we’ve asked them to do is just process it with paper that we provide," said HCSO Asst. Chief P. Bosquez.
Records show that Lewis posted a $7,500 bond on Saturday. As part of his bond conditions, he is prohibited from visiting anyone at the jail while the case is pending.