Feds say Georgia inmates carried out fraud scheme from cells

- Georgia inmates used contraband cellphones to carry out financial fraud schemes from their prison cells, federal prosecutors in Atlanta say.

In 13 indictments unsealed this week, federal prosecutors accuse 51 people of participating in the scheme. Among those indicted are 15 current or former correctional officers and 19 current or former inmates at Autry State Prison in Pelham.

The inmates posed as law enforcement agents and called people around the country, telling them there was a warrant out for their arrest for missing jury duty, the indictments say. The indictments also allege that the inmates told the victims they could be arrested or pay a fine. They then allegedly directed people to buy prepaid cash cards and give them the number or to wire money to an inmate's prepaid debit card account.

The inmates carried out the scheme from at least January 2013 through October of last year, prosecutors said.

The indictments are the latest development in an investigation by federal authorities into the use of contraband cellphones by Georgia prison inmates.

In an indictment filed earlier this month, federal prosecutors in Atlanta accused 17 people of participating in a drug trafficking ring that distributed significant quantities of crystal methamphetamine in metro Atlanta and elsewhere. Three inmates used contraband cellphones to manage a network of brokers, distributors and runners from their prison cells, prosecutors said.

Just a few months earlier, in September, federal prosecutors in Atlanta filed two other indictments that also targeted alleged criminal activity by Georgia inmates using contraband cellphones. Those indictments alleged that inmates used the cellphones to traffic drugs, smuggle in contraband, steal identities and, in at least one case, to arrange a violent attack on an inmate suspected of snitching.

The problem of contraband cellphones in prisons is a national one, but in Georgia prisons alone, more than 11,000 cellphones were seized in 2015, according to the state Department of Corrections. Some are brought in by prison staff, visitors and inmates returning form off-site work detail, while others are tossed or flown by drone over a prison fence.

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Associated Press Writer Kate Brumback contributed to this report.

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