Inmate smuggles 80 strips of prescription drugs into jail with help

Coordinated with a woman on the outside to smuggle Suboxone into the prison

By Travis Kellar
The Times-Leader

WILKES-BARRE — An inmate in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility and a woman on the outside coordinated a delivery of almost 80 strips of prescription drugs through the prison’s delivery entrance.

That inmate is facing charges, and charges are also pending for the woman and another inmate that police say received contraband.

Inmate Steven Potter, 27, faces a single felony contraband charge after prison officials determined that he was coordinating with a woman on the outside to smuggle Suboxone inside the prison.

Suboxone is a prescription medication that contains an opioid as well as a drug that reverses the effects of other narcotics. It is prescribed to treat narcotic addiction, according to the manufacturer’s website, but it can be misused to get high.

Potter is serving prison time after repeatedly violating his parole related to fleeing and eluding and reckless endangerment charges.

Potter was arraigned on the contraband charge on Wednesday, and is set to appear before District Judge Rick Cronauer for a preliminary hearing at 10 a.m. on April 9.

According to the affidavit of probable cause:

The Wilkes-Barre Anti-Crime Unit was contacted by county jail deputy warden James Larson on March 1 regarding inmates with contraband in the prison. Larson produced incident reports, “a bag of evidence” and audio and video recordings, which tipped investigators off to the drugs being smuggled into the prison.

It was not immediately clear what the evidence entailed.

On March 8, prison officials found inmate Corney McLaurin in possession of tobacco inside his cell. Officials noticed that he was given two egg, ham and cheese bagel sandwiches, which is a food not typically served to inmates, according to the affidavit.

Prison officials later observed Potter walking down the hallway and carrying two breakfast trays with more food not usually served to inmates. Potter was subsequently given a misconduct report for the food.

At the same time, prison officials were escorting McLaurin’s cellmate, Thomas Wallace, to the showers to be strip searched. As they were walking, a prison official saw Wallace drop a package containing 76 and a half strips of Suboxone pills near the block door. Prison officials then turned the package over to the police.

Outside deliveries

Larson learned about the incident, started to listen to Potter’s recorded telephone calls and visits and then provided them to police. Police learned from the recordings that Potter was calling Rochelle Fedkenheuer, a woman living on the outside of the prison.

In one conversation, police say Potter was “begging Fedkenheuer to place ‘Subs’ in the prison delivery entrance.”

According to police, Potter told Fedkenheuer when the guards changed shifts and when the best time to make the drop was. Police say that Potter was angry with Fedkenheuer in a few conversations “because she didn’t hide the package and he had an unknown inmate look for it.”

Officers interviewed Fedkenheuer at police headquarters on March 11, when police say she admitted to placing tobacco and Suboxone in the prison’s delivery entrance. She also allegedly told police that she did not want to make the deliveries, “but Potter kept begging her.”

The affidavit indicates that police consulted with Assistant District Attorney Thomas Hogans and received approval for charges for Fedkenheuer and Wallace.

As of Wednesday afternoon, charges had not been filed.

Ongoing problem

Larson told the Times Leader on Wednesday that smuggling drugs into the prison is a common, ongoing problem.

As soon as prison officials discover one smuggling method and implement measures to prevent it, prisoners and their friends on the outside come up with another method, Larson said. “They have 24 hours a day, seven days a week to come up with new ways.”

Larson said the public has access to the exterior of the prison near the delivery entrance and contraband could have been dropped between the links of a metal gate that is raised and lowered to allow vehicles inside the perimeter of the prison and back out.

And prisoners on work details of loading and unloading delivery vehicles or garbage trucks have access to the interior of the delivery area.

He said prison officials are constantly listening to recordings of prisoners’ phone conversations if they have reason to believe smuggling is taking place, and officials set up surveillance both inside and outside the prison in such cases.

“We follow the thing from start to finish, reviewing camera footage, phone calls, prisoner movement, just like a police investigation,” Larson said.

Larson said Potter had been under surveillance “for a while,” and officials “caught a break” when an attentive corrections officer saw an inmate take the Suboxone from a food tray. He said Potter was allegedly using trays of food as a delivery method for the drug.

Larson couldn’t say if Potter was allegedly using the drug to overcome an addiction, to get high or just to distribute to other prisoners for profit.

He said officials have taken measures to prevent the method of alleged smuggling used in this this particular situation.

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