HUNTSVILLE — A total of seven people have been charged in what authorities say was a conspiracy ring to smuggle Suboxone and tobacco into the jail facility at the Scott County Justice Center.
The charges, filed last week by the Scott County Sheriff’s Department, follow a month-long investigation into the alleged conspiracy ring, which involved an inmate at the jail, his girlfriend who was coordinating the smuggling effort from the outside, and at least five other people.
According to warrants filed by drug agent Kris Lewallen, the investigation began in May when Lt. Joe Byrge discovered Suboxone strips in a towel that was being given to Benjamin Burchfield, an inmate at the jail.
The ensuing investigation determined that Burchfield, 25, and his girlfriend, 22-year-old Jessica Smith, of Fentress County, conspired to sneak Suboxone and tobacco into the jail on multiple occasions, according to the warrants.
Allegedly, Burchfield had Smith going about the area, purchasing Suboxone strips from people and hiding them in the seams of items such as towels and socks, which would be delivered to Burchfield at the jail.
In the weeks that followed the discovery of the initial Suboxone strip, investigators used recorded jail phone calls, video from visits at the jail, and written statements to piece together the investigation that eventually encompassed seven different suspects.
It is alleged that Smith would take the items containing the drugs to various people — “some of who knew drugs were in them and some who had no clue” — and ask them to deliver them to Burchfield at the jail.
It is further alleged that Burchfield had several people inside the jail who assisted with the operation, either financially or by agreeing to accept the items in their own name.
At one point in May, Tabitha Harness, 29, delivered a towel to the jail and asked a corrections officer to deliver it to an inmate. The officer, Joe Byrge, discovered Suboxone strips hidden in the towel. Allegedly, Harness told him that she did not know the strips were inside the towel. She told investigators that she had been asked to buy some towels for the inmate, who was identified as Mark Lay.
According to the warrant, Harness told investigators that “Jessica Smith all of a sudden stopped by her house and got the towels and told Harness she would take them to the jail for her.” Harness went on to tell investigators that Smith returned the towels a short time later, saying she had forgotten that she had an active arrest warrant against her and did not want to be seen at the jail.
Harness told investigators that she “didn’t know the drugs were in the towels and thought nothing about taking them to the jail.”
On a separate occasion, investigators reviewing video footage of a monitored visit discovered a separate inmate at the jail, Jeff Litton, 32, telling his girlfriend — identified as Casey Terry, 33 — that the socks she had given him that contained Suboxone had been washed by jailers and did not make their way to him.
Terry allegedly told investigators that Smith had placed the Suboxone strips inside the socks and given them to her. She also allegedly admitted that Litton had instructed her during a visit to the jail on how to sneak Suboxone into the jail via pieces of mail.
It was Litton who allegedly told investigators that Burchfield and Smith had started using towels to sneak Suboxone into the jail, and that at least four towels containing the drug had made it into the jail, while two others had not.
Faced with the charges against her, Smith allegedly told investigators that she would place the drug strips in the towels and socks, and that Burchfield would call her with a place to take them to or a phone number to call to meet people to deliver them to.
In addition to the efforts to smuggle Suboxone into the jail, the investigation revealed that Smith allegedly talked about going onto county property and hiding tobacco in a county-owned truck so work-release inmates could get it and return it to the jail.
Another suspect — Tanika Myers, 27 — became a part of the investigation after it was allegedly revealed that she had taken a towel with Suboxone strips from Smith and delivered it to another inmate’s wife. Myers was allegedly asked to become involved by Jeff Myers, a jail inmate who later told investigators that he believed he would receive commissary in exchange for his wife’s cooperation.
Each of the suspects was charged with introducing contraband into a penal facility, criminal conspiracy and violation of the Drug-Free School Zone Act.