“It has its own government. It has its own rules. It has its own understanding,” said James McEachin, a former detention center corrections officer turned pastor. As a guard, he said, “once you go behind that door, it closes for you, too.”
It was here, in this troubled place, that White seized an opportunity. He used the jail’s lax security, its female guards and his unusually long three-year stay at the facility to build what prosecutors described as a lucrative drug-trafficking and money-laundering operation, complete with a “minister of finance.”
Some of the guards who allegedly conspired with White said they were in it solely for the cash.
“I am just about my money,” 25-year-old corrections officer Adrena Rice told White during a wiretapped call Feb. 10. She had no interest in relationships with inmates, who would want a cut of what she was earning by working for him. “Nah. I love money, Tay. I want my own money.”
The corruption extends far beyond the 13 women charged, the affidavit suggested, with one inmate estimating that as many as 70 percent of the corrections officers were compromised.
Gang members have long manipulated guards at Maryland’s prisons. Since 2010, 89 officers across the state, including five at the Baltimore detention center, have been terminated or forced to resign for fraternization or contraband, said state corrections spokesman Rick Binetti.
Gary D. Maynard, who was appointed head of the state’s troubled prison system by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) in 2007, acknowledged how deeply rooted the problems at the jail are. “The collusion, corruption, riots were part of this system for a long, long time,” he said. “We have exposed it now.”
What investigators found at the Baltimore jail astounded law enforcement officials across the country, who described it as “bizarre” and “unbelievable.”
“In all my years, and I’ve been in the business since 1960, I have never heard of this level of complicity,” said Arnett Gaston, the former commanding officer of New York City’s Rikers Island detention facilities and a retired University of Maryland criminal justice professor.
With the ease of ordering takeout, White used a smuggled cellphone to arrange exchanges between outside drug dealers and corrections officers, who brought the contraband to him to be sold inside the jail at huge markups, the affidavit alleged. Percocet went for $30 a pill; one-gram bags of marijuana sold for $50. The gang’s control was so complete that any non-member who tried to get in on the action had to pay a tax or risk physical harm.