Trio face charges in jail smuggling scheme
Feb 10, 2013
Erie County deputies think they’ve finally bottomed-out on an intricate booze-smuggling operation at the Erie County jail.
A third suspect, Amy Cheatham, 35, of Sandusky, was charged Friday with illegal conveyance of contraband into a detention facility.
Mildred Hensley, 59, and Whitney Robinson, 22, were previously charged with illegal conveyance of contraband into a detention facility. Hensley, whose smuggling career allegedly extended back about four months, was also charged with illegal conveyance of deadly weapons into
a detention facility, a
The whole thing came undone Monday, with an anonymous phone call.
The caller told Erie County deputies Hensley, a long-time jail cook, smuggled a bottle of gin-spiked Sprite into the facility and gave it to three inmates working in the kitchen on Super Bowl Sunday.
“She’s the main character in the operation,” Erie County Chief Deputy Jared Oliver said.
Deputies talked to inmates, who confirmed the story. They then went after Hensley, who admitted to the Sprite scandal and much more, according to Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth.
She told deputies she’d smuggled smokeless tobacco, banned food items, hair clippers and scissors — the item that landed her the felony charge — over about four months. She didn’t provide deputies with a motive, but she did tell them there was more depth to the Sprite operation.
That’s where Robinson and Cheatham came in.
According to Oliver, Cheatham and her boyfriend — one of the three inmates working in the kitchen — actually hatched the plan, as it preyed on several weaknesses in the jail’s food service system.
One was that Hensley, a cook on the inside, had been smuggling items for months. That was the in.
The other was that Aramark food providers cooked food for the Orianna house — a sort of halfway house — in the Erie County jail. And somebody had to take food trays from Erie County jail to the Orianna house, then bring them back.
That courier was Robinson, deputies said.
Cheatham’s boyfriend talked to Hensley, and Hensley called Robison, deputies said.
“Hensley called (Robinson) and said ‘hey, can you go out to pick this bottle up at this house?’” Oliver said.
Robinson agreed and met with Cheatham during her evening rounds, Oliver said.
Cheatham then handed off the hooch to Robinson, who dropped it off with the dirty food trays to Hensley, Oliver said. And it was high times in the kitchen for the three inmates — until the anonymous phone call.
When the hammer came down, all three inmates were stripped of their privileges and credit toward their sentences earned from working in the kitchen.
Sigsworth, meanwhile, said he has worked with Aramark to close the loopholes.
“From now on, outside employees will be searched prior to going back into the kitchen,” Sigsworth said. “There will be no more
food trays exchanged at the jail.”