Friday, January 22, 1999

Guard allegedly got drugs into LCI

Probe uncovers felony conviction

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — A Lebanon Correctional Institution (LCI) guard was arrested Thursday after police said they watched him accept $250 to deliver a marijuana package intended for an inmate at the prison.

        “He has gone from being an overseer of inmates to being one of them,” said Col. Richard K. Jones, chief deputy of the Butler County Sheriff's Office, which was involved in the arrest. “Now he's the one wearing the handcuffs and the ID number.”

        James Earl Smith, 35, of Dayton, Ohio, was caught around 2 p.m. Thursday at the prison, as he was reporting for duty. Authorities said he had in his possession 4 ounces of marijuana, which has a street value of $600 to $800.

        He remained in the Butler County jail Thursday night. He had no lawyer as of late Thursday.

        Mr. Smith, a prison employee since August 1997, never should have been working there because he is a convicted felon. Ohio law prohibits felons from working in state prisons, officials said.

        Investigators found Mr. Smith had four state ID cards, all in different names and bearing his photo, apparently to conceal a prior forgery conviction, said Bradley Kraemer, sheriff's spokesman.

        Fellow corrections officers are infuriated by the incident, said Col. Jones, who worked 17 years at LCI before joining the sheriff's office six years ago.

        “It makes you very angry when someone from within tries to tarnish the reputation of those who risk their lives to go into these prisons every day,” he said.

        LCI is a close-security prison, one step below maximum security. It houses almost 2,300 male felons and employs 550, including 337 corrections officers.

        Sgt. Greg Blankenship, supervisor of the sheriff's drug, vice and investigations unit, said Mr. Smith admitted to police he had smuggled drugs into the prison before.

        Mr. Smith was caught because an informant, who served time at LCI as an inmate, told the sheriff's office about the guard's alleged drug-delivery service, Sgt. Blankenship said.

        The informant set up a meeting with Mr. Smith at the Monroe McDonald's restaurant on Ohio 63, just across Interstate 75 from the prison.

        Mr. Smith walked to a car where the informant and an undercover officer were sitting, while Col. Jones and a half-dozen other deputies sat nearby in unmarked cars. The informant handed Mr. Smith a plastic grocery sack containing the money and 4 ounces of marijuana.

        “It was an agreement that, "I will take this dope into the prison and give it to your buddy, but you have to give me $250,'” Sgt. Blankenship said.

        Before leaving for the prison, Mr. Smith went to the restaurant's drive-through.

        The unmarked cars then swung into action.

        “We followed him right out of McDonald's parking lot,” Sgt. Blankenship said, “and once he got on prison property, we took him down.”

        “He was very nonchalant, even when he was stopped,” Col. Jones said. “But when the handcuffs went on — probably for the first time since he was in (prison guard) training — he got a real sick look on his face. He knows he's looking at some pretty serious charges.”

        Mr. Smith will face two charges in Butler County, where he allegedly accepted the drugs and money. He will be charged with a fourth-degree felony for allegedly conveying the marijuana onto the prison property in Warren County. If convicted of that charge, he could spend six to 18 months in prison and pay a $5,000 fine.

        “My people were very elated today and excited about taking somebody down such as this,” Col. Jones said. “The first thing we did was take his uniform shirt off. ... When somebody in a position of trust like this betrays that trust, we hope for the maximum punishment.”


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