They were already criminals, convicted felons sentenced to one of Georgia’s prisons. But somehow, while behind bars at different prisons, three inmates were part of drug trafficking ring that included 14 others, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Wednesday.
All 17, including three people still in prison, were charged federally for their roles in the underground drug trafficking, which distributed illegal narcotics throughout Atlanta and the Southeast, U.S. Attorney John Horn’s office said in an emailed statement.
“Once again, inmates have gained access to contraband cellular telephones and used them to organize and manage an extensive criminal enterprise from inside prison,” Horn said. “This indictment alleges that these inmates capitalized on their near unfettered access to cell phones to not only continue their criminal activities, but to direct the criminal activities of others outside of prison.”
Using contraband cell phones, the inmates managed the work of distributors and runners outside of prison, according to investigators. The phones, investigators said, were often equipped with touch screens and internet access that enabled prisoners to coordinate drug transactions using voice calls, text messages, and “WhatsApp Messenger.”
“It makes no sense that, where prison is supposed to remove criminals from our community and rehabilitate them, the inmates continue to victimize society from behind prison bars,” Horn said.
The current inmates who have been charged in the case include:
• Francisco Palacios Baras, 36, an inmate at Hancock State Prison in Sparta. Palacios Baras has been charged with one count of conspiring to distribute at least 50 grams of methamphetamine and 11 counts of possessing meth with the intent to distribute.
• Johnathan Corey McLoon, 30, an inmate at Valdosta State Prison, has been charged with one count of conspiring to distribute at least 50 grams of actual methamphetamine and two counts of possessing meth with the intent to distribute.
• Christopher Wayne Hildebrand, 33, an inmate at Coastal Transition Center in Savannah, has been charged with one count of conspiring to distribute at least 50 grams of actual methamphetamine and one count of possessing meth with the intent to distribute.
Others charged in the ring include:
• Ruben Antonio Ruiz, 36, of Gainesville
• Salvador Pineda Melendez, 30, of Marietta
• Olga Veronica Ramirez Reyes, 27, of Marietta
• Gustavo Adolfo Ramirez Reyes, 24, of Marietta
• Jose Rolando Ramos Remez, 25, of Gainesville
• Yony Israel Yanes Padilla, 26, of Gainesville
• Troy Oneal Watkins, 46, of Roswell
• Gregory Landon Smith, 55, of Plainville
• Robert Lynn White, 55, of Silver Creek
• Billy Joe Foster, 35, of Tennessee
• George Travis Roach, 36, of Tennessee
• Melissa Leann Waters, 30, of Tennessee
• Charles Randall Warthen, 52, of Mableton
• Walter Alvarado Lopez, 28, of Atlanta