SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) — A smuggling scheme involving Sarasota County Jail inmates using headphone cords to fish contraband into the jail from the street was caught on camera but somehow went unnoticed for days.
The inmate who began chipping away at his third floor cell window in early October told investigators weapons were among the items snuck into the jail. Sheriff’s office spokesman Evan Keats said so far no weapons have been found.
A search of the cell block where the damaged window was found turned up a baggie of crack cocaine, tobacco, a vape pen, cell phones and cell phone batteries, according to Keats.
Antonio Blan,19, James Tolbert, 23, Juan Salazar-Diaz, 26, and LaDarius Richardson, 26, were charged with facility infractions and face internal sanctions.
John Hicks, 37, and Michael Bodiker, 42, who live in the cell where the hole in the window was, face criminal charges. Damage to the window was estimated at $1,200.
Bodiker was charged with a single count of smuggling to add to his rap sheet that includes drug and burglary convictions.
Hicks, who had arson and burglary on his record, was charged with eleven counts tied to the smuggling case.
Other inmates were implicated but not charged.
A probable cause affidavit states “a whole bunch” of jail-issued headphone cords were tied together to make a line long enough to reach Hicks’ cell from the ground.
Investigators found one end tied to a tree near the Ringling Boulevard building. The other end was fastened to a broomstick handle in the jail.
The items were put in bags on the ground and then tugged up to the third floor over a four-day period starting Oct. 16.
Hicks told Major Brian Meinberg “lots of items” had been smuggled into the facility. A review of surveillance video further indicated Hicks was the mastermind of the scheme.
“Hicks can be seen tying a sheet to obscure the view of the cell from the cameras,” the probable cause affidavit states. “When the sheet is removed you can see the window has been altered.”
The document indicates Hicks and others obscured what he was doing to the window by blocking the view of the surveillance cameras with sheets and towels.
Inmates are accused of using a similar technique to hide the actual smuggling from the camera.
Keats would not offer details about who provided the contraband.
“That is part of an ongoing criminal investigation, of which I am unable to comment further on at this time,” Keats said.
Keats said the inmates were tested for drugs after the four-inch hole was found in the window and the cord was cut.
“No inmate exhibited symptoms of drug use,” Keats said. “All involved were evaluated and cleared by medical staff.”
The smuggling scheme prompted an examination of jail security, Keats said.
“Following this incident, the sheriff’s office, along with county maintenance, have conducted integrity checks on all windows,” Keats said. “As well as reinforced the importance of perimeter security along with daily cell checks.”