Third inmate caught allegedly escaping Atlanta federal prison camp

For the third time in three months federal agents arrested an inmate after he allegedly escaped from the minimum-security camp adjacent to the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta, supposedly to get banned items like liquor, drugs or cellphones to bring back to other prisoners.

Fernando Settles, who is serving 20 years for “conspiratorial and substantive drug trafficking,” was caught early Monday is some woods outside the fence along the perimeter of the prison camp, according to an affidavit by FBI agent James Hosty. The camp is located in an area with businesses, homes and apartment complexes for neighbors.

Settles had a cellphone, which is not allowed in prison, and two empty black duffle bags. In the on-going FBI-Atlanta Police Department investigation, agents and officers have reported that inmates use duffle bags to carry items like drugs, alcohol, cellphones and food items back into the prison. Inmates will pay inflated prices for such items.

For at least three years, inmates at the prison camp have been temporarily escaping but returning with contraband to sell to other convicts, court filings show. Federal agents began cracking down in February after one inmate slipped through a hole cut in the fence to fetch a bag containing cigarettes, cigars and tequila.

Monday afternoon, U.S. Magistrate Judge Janet King told Settles she would not grant him bond on the new charge since “you’re going back to jail anyway” to continue serving the sentence on his previous conviction. Settles, 36, is scheduled to be released in July 2025 but faces an additional five years if convicted of escape.

Neither the Bureau of Prisons in Washington nor officials at the federal institution in southeast Atlanta responded to email requests for comment Monday. Neither responded when asked for comment after the two other alleged escapes.

The first inmate caught escaping was Justin Stinson on Feb. 3. Two months later, Stinson pleaded guilty to escape, telling Senior U.S. District Judge Charles Pannell he only left the prison briefly to get cigarettes because he is addicted to nicotine. Stinson said he always planned to return.

Stinson, 35, was arrested moments after he climbed an outer fence to fetch a duffle bag containing a cellphone, scissors, two 1.75 liters of Jose Cuervo tequila, two cartons of Newport cigarettes, four boxes of Black and Mild cigars and food items.

second inmate was arrested on April 14 moments after he allegedly climbed one fence and then walked out a front gate to meet his fiancee so they could have sex.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffry Davis said in court that Deldrick Jackson and Kelly Bass had been running a shuttle service for other inmates but on April 13 Jackson slipped away from the prison for personal reasons. Until then, Davis said, Jackson and Bass, a Stone Mountain mother of three, had been charging inmates for rides to nearby restaurants, hotels and residences.

According to court records, between November and April, about $4,000 had been transferred to Bass’ bank account from the accounts of inmates or their relatives. Prosecuters said inmates would use a phone app to schedule rides and Bass would drive them in her silver Acura SUV where they wanted to go.

Jackson is charged with conspiracy to escape as well as escape. He was already serving 10 years and 10 months for conspiracy to distribute cocaine and money laundering, so he remains in custody.

Bass, who is free on bond, is charged with helping Jackson escape. Both pleaded not guilty to the charges on Thursday.