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First of guards plead to smuggling charges
by Jason Collins
Apr 02, 2013 | 1181 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BEEVILLE – One of three Beeville residents and former prison guards charged in a cell phone and drug smuggling operation inside the McConnell Unit pleaded guilty this week.

Stephanie Deming, 23, entered her plea in Corpus Christi federal court Tuesday.

Lela Ysolde Hinojosa, 51, and Arturo Salas, 22, both Beeville residents, are also named in the 23-page indictment.

In all, seven of 32 inmates and former corrections officers stood before a federal judge and pleaded guilty Tuesday to racketeering charges related to smuggling cellphones and drugs into the prison.

This indictment identified a scheme by gang leaders of the Raza Unida and Aryan Brotherhood to orchestrate criminal activity from behind bars, according to the indictment. Those leaders are accused of organizing murders, attempted murders, home invasions and shootings through smuggled cellphones.

During the hearing on Tuesday, prosecutors said that Deming, who worked in the prison’s segregation unit, cut holes in the soles of her boots to hide cellphones and marijuana.

Area news reports reveal that Deming told prosecutors that hiding contraband inside of boots is the most common method to get it inside the prison. This is because during security searchers, officers only shake the boots but do not stick their hands inside them.

That changed on Oct. 28, 2009, though, when an officer put his hand inside her boot during a search.

The officer found two cellphones and chargers with the plugs cut off.

Deming, according to news reports, told agents that a plug is more difficult to conceal and that inmates know how to convert their radios into phone chargers.

Deming, according to testimony, smuggled four cellphones and was paid $400 for each. She also was paid about $500 for every four ounces of marijuana, prosecutors said.

Deming’s entering the world of smuggling actually began with Christy Nesloney, according to news reports.

Nesloney, 26, who also entered a guilty plea Tuesday, said that she quit working at the prison after becoming pregnant. She maintained contact with the inmate she had been dating and the two eventually married.

It was she who convinced Deming and Marie Koenig, 31, to start smuggling items into the prison as a way to make easy money, according to information provided Tuesday.

Nesloney is said to have provided the drugs and trained the women how to smuggle contraband.

Koenig, who has a master’s degree in counseling psychology, provided mental health services for inmates.

Agents found more than 400 grams of marijuana and more than 200 grams of ecstasy in her office at the prison.

Only a few weeks ago, a new system went online at the McConnell Unit that will block the use of unauthorized cell phones.

Jason Clark, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said that this managed access system is being tested at both the McConnell and Stiles prison units. The Mark Stiles Unit is located outside of Beaumont.

Along with blocking cell phone signals, the system can also stop text messages and Internet access, except with these, there is an added feature.

Those are diverted to a central location and never make it to their intended recipient.

Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.

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