Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 21, 2013

Pugsley officials fight drug smuggling

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — KINGSLEY — It was a thought-out scheme, developed during a series of coded phone calls.

Three people were to deliver illegal drugs to Pugsley Correctional Facility in Kingsley. A man would place a package of marijuana under a dumpster outside the gated grounds to be retrieved by an inmate who had supervised access to the area. Two female accomplices would leave more drugs in the prison lobby's bathroom.

On April 2, the man followed those instructions, but found himself in law enforcement's cross hairs when authorities uncovered the scheme. He's accused of planting a Durex box containing 135 grams of marijuana, stuffed into coin wrappers placed into condoms, under the dumpster.

The marijuana never made it into the prisoner's hands.

Pugsley officers monitored the inmate's phone calls and alerted the Traverse Narcotics Team, whose members set up surveillance and nabbed the trio the day of the drop.

Joshua Robertson, 25, Mia Addes, 45, and Stephanie Doss, 39, were bound over to 13th Circuit Court on felonies for furnishing contraband to a prison. Court records show they admitted to conspiring to deliver marijuana and tobacco. Robertson and Doss are from Petoskey, while Addes is from Harbor Springs.

Pugsley Warden Shirlee Harry said the arrests were among the most significant smuggling busts since she took the position in 2005. Prison staffers actively and aggressively try to stay in front of drug activities by administering inmate pat-downs, drug tests, canine searches and monitoring phone calls. But they can't catch it all.

"We know it's getting in," Harry said. "I don’t think there’s a fail-safe way to say that this environment will be a drug-free institution. That’s unrealistic."

Providing to a prisoner is no small risk. Furnishing contraband and conspiracy are four-year felonies. "Folks on the outside" might jeopardize their freedom because "it's big money," Harry said.

Marijuana, tobacco, heroin and cocaine are the most common items smuggled into Pugsley. Prisoners who sell to other inmates can offer co-conspirators a hefty paycheck. The confiscated marijuana in the recent case could have gone for $8,000 to $10,000 inside the prison, a Pugsley inspector said.

"The word on the street is you get a lot more money selling drugs in prison than you do on the street," said Charles Welch, Grand Traverse County parole and probation office supervisor.

Cigarettes became a hot commodity among Pugsley's roughly 1,300 male inmates after 2009, when the Michigan Department of Corrections banned tobacco use and possession in all facilities. A cigarette typically sells for between $3 and $5, Harry said.

Robertson is a former Pugsley inmate who's on parole for resisting a police officer. He formed a bond with the prisoner, Harry said. An investigation into the inmate's involvement continues and he has not been charged, said Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Bob Cooney.

Welch doesn't often hear of parolees caught up in smuggling operations. Those who do could owe a debt to an inmate or just want to help a buddy, he said.

Pugsley staff members stay on top of activity by listening to tapes of inmate phone calls daily. They tune into conversations that seem stilted or illegitimate. Prisoners commonly try to disguise their plans by speaking in Spanish, or by referencing drugs in slang such as trees, smack and power.

"We can pick up on bits and pieces of what they're saying," said Harry, adding that staff listened to 800 phone calls in March.

Small amounts of drugs also come through the mail. Someone recently sent a package of chewing and loose tobacco to the prison chaplain, presumably as a decoy.

Harry said staffers receive numerous tips about smuggling activity. They act on every one.

"It lets prisoners know that we’re not just going to let them run this facility. We’re in charge, and this is something that we’re going to get a handle on," Harry said.