Pa. county officials break up drug ring in jail

"I'm trying to make $100,000 before I head upstate," one of the now charged inmates wrote in a letter

By Vinny Vella
The Philadelphia Inquirer
EAGLEVILLE, Pa. — In a letter to his friend on the outside, Mason Hall bragged about "climbing up the ranks" in the Montgomery County Correctional Facility, according to court documents. He had gained so much influence, he bragged, that he had developed a sure-fire method of making the two of them serious money: smuggling drug-laced paper in through the mail.

"This [expletive] is deep bro," Hall, 22, wrote in the December letter, according to an affidavit of probable cause for his arrest. "I'm trying to make $100,000 before I head upstate."

But the scheme allegedly orchestrated by Hall — a convicted rapist awaiting sentencing — fell apart. And now he and fellow inmate Luis Valazquez, 37, as well as two other people authorities say they schemed with outside the jail, have been charged with attempted sale of a controlled substance to an inmate, conspiracy, and related offenses.

A sign sits in front of Montgomery County Correctional Facility on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, in Eagleville, Pa.
A sign sits in front of Montgomery County Correctional Facility on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, in Eagleville, Pa. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma)

There was no indication that any of the four had hired attorneys.

District Attorney Kevin Steele said in a statement Thursday that the charges add to the already serious offenses the two inmates face.

"Thankfully, this plan to smuggle drugs into the prison was foiled, but it further shows that these two defendants seem to believe that the law doesn't apply to them, and that they can do as they want out in society and now even in prison," he said.

Hall pleaded guilty in June to raping a woman at gunpoint at the Norristown Farm Park in 2017. Valazquez is awaiting a transfer to Philadelphia, where he is wanted in connection with an August murder, according to court records.

The two men were housed in the same maximum-security wing of the Montgomery County jail, according to court documents. There, they developed the plan to have Valazquez's girlfriend, Latashia Lucas, 31, work with Hall's friend Patrick Perna, 21, to send the contraband letters, authorities said.

The group soaked one letter with synthetic marijuana, and another with cocaine, but both were rejected by prison officers, who could tell the letters had been tampered with, according to the affidavit.

After intercepting prison calls between Hall, Valazquez, and Perna, detectives interviewed Perna and Lucas. Both admitted to participating in the scheme, the affidavit said, and have been released on $50,000 unsecured bail.
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