COVINGTON- When you look at a dumpster, you probably think it's just for taking out the trash.
But St. Tammany Sheriff Randy Smith says months of undercover investigating revealed waste bins around the jail property in Covington were seen by some offenders as a way to bring in drugs. And that was just one way.
"The amount of contraband, we were shocked at, that was coming into the jail and how it was being done," said Smith.
Smith says the probe began when his staff started noticing a sharp increase in drugs found behind bars shortly after shutting down the controversial Work Release program in May, due to financial cutbacks.
The program, which was originally outsourced under former Sheriff Jack Strain, faced scrutiny in an investigative series by Eyewitness News and The New Orleans Advocate, which revealed among other things, a deadly haven for drug use.
But tapping into tips from a tour of the new Orleans Parish Prison facility, on how to spot signs of contraband activity, Smith says investigators discovered six trusties were working in collaboration with two of their spouses. Additionally, an inmate behind bars was discovered to be in a large drug ring who was also working with his spouse to have drugs including meth and prescription pills dropped at their various work sites to be picked up and brought back into the jail.
Those sites included the jail kitchen, maintenance barn and the parish litter abatement program, where drugs would be hidden in dumpsters and trash. The fallout totaled eleven arrests.
"We're fortunate we put a stop to it for now, we'll monitor the situation and try to keep these drugs away from our corrections facilities," said Smith.
Watchdog group Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany applauds the takedown, even though they say they've been reporting similar activity since 2013.
Now, they want to see this attention to it continued.
"Anytime you have a thousand people who are criminals living in a small area, there's going to be problems," said member Terry King, "So you have to continuously stay out in front of them and this will be a big step in that direction."
The sheriff says the trusty program has been temporarily shutdown for review. Deputies who oversee the program are getting extra training. The Sheriff's Office says no employees were found to have been involved in the smuggling scheme.
Some of those arrested in the operation have been moved to new facilities.
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