Confiscated note unravels drug scheme at Pa. prison

A sheet of paper left in the Westmoreland County Prison library helped investigators unravel a yearlong scheme that used mail to deliver drugs


By Renatta Signorini
Tribune-Review

WESTMORELAND COUNTY, Pa. — A sheet of paper left in the Westmoreland County Prison library helped investigators unravel a yearlong scheme that used mail to deliver drugs to the Hempfield lockup, officials reported in court documents.

Corrections officers listened to inmate phone conversations to intercept pieces of mail, and county detectives staked out the county courthouse to watch papers change hands before ending up at the jail, investigators said.

Four inmates are charged with corrupt organization and related offenses in connection with the alleged scheme. Arrested Monday were Stefan S. Houser, 30, of Vandergrift, Dameon Jerod Hill, 30, of Pittsburgh’s Garfield neighborhood, and Maurice Williams, 25, of Jeannette. All three are inmates at the jail.

Sammie Edward Lane Jr., 31, is set for arraignment May 7. He is an inmate at SCI-Greene County.

Jail officials in June 2018 started giving inmates photocopies instead of actual mail over concerns that the parcels might contain K2, or synthetic marijuana. After the change, county Detective James Williams said in criminal complaints that the “inmates switched to a scheme where it is shipping in supposedly legal mail.”

Jail officials found a piece of paper detailing the alleged operation left in the library and started listening to numerous phone calls starting Jan. 1, 2019. Police said inmates would contact their wives, girlfriends or others to arrange for mail soaked in or sprayed with K2 to be sent into the facility or delivered in person during court hearings.

Those outside the jail would be paid through smartphone application. Rates were $50 for an envelope, $100 for a piece of paper and $1,000 to anyone who got documents to the inmates.

Investigators said the purported legal mail was marked with the return address of a Pittsburgh attorney who didn’t have a client at the jail. Items with that return address were found in cells belonging to Hill and Lane and in the mail in January 2019, according to court papers.

Some of those papers tested positive for synthetic marijuana, police said.

On July 22, detectives conducted a stakeout at the courthouse in downtown Greensburg when Williams and Hill were there for hearings after a confidential informant reportedly tipped off police. Investigators said they saw women in the courthouse carrying papers and an envelope that later were passed to the two suspects, according to court papers.

Those documents later were found to contain synthetic marijuana, police said.

Houser allegedly attempted to pass a note to another inmate detailing the operation, but it was intercepted by a corrections officer. The criminal complaint lists 10 inmates who were involved, but only four have been charged. Five women were identified as “conspiring sources,” but none have been charged.

During the investigation, police filed charges in connection with specific instances of alleged drug smuggling.

Williams and his girlfriend, Takeya Woods, 24, of Jeannette, were arrested Sept. 26 after authorities found a piece of paper with suspected synthetic marijuana sprayed on it and taped to the back of the toilet tank inside the Jeannette district court bathroom. Both had been arrested two weeks earlier in connection with a drug bust at their home.

Hill was arrested in November after authorities found a paper with K2 on it inside a jar of peanut butter in his cell.

Hill, Williams, Lane and Houser did not have attorneys listed in their new cases. They are charged with corrupt organizations, conspiracy, drug possession, criminal use of a communication facility and related offenses. Bail for Hill, Williams and Houser was set at $100,000 each. Preliminary hearings are set for May 8.

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©2020 Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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