Feds prosecuting Golden Grove contraband cases

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ST. CROIX - Federal indictments in three separate cases accusing men of contraband-related offenses while they were being held at Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility were unsealed on Thursday.

The indictments are not directly connected to a massive nighttime search of the prison that occurred about a week ago by federal agents seeking contraband, and instead pertain to allegations involving prison contraband from last year.

However, it was not clear whether the indictments may be related to the overarching investigation that prompted last week's raid.

The execution of the search warrants at Golden Grove was part of an ongoing, multiyear investigation into the suspected smuggling of contraband into the prison by inmates, correction officers and others, and the distribution of contraband inside the prison, according to an affidavit in support of the search warrant by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Tracey Gardner and a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

According to court documents, Michael Boyce, Jameel West and Michael Ford were charged in separate indictments by a federal grand jury on April 3, although the indictments were sealed until Thursday, after the men were arrested.

Each had an initial court appearance on Thursday and was arraigned on Friday, with conditions set for his release.

Court documents indicate that Boyce was indicted on two counts of the federal crime of possession of prison contraband, and on one count of promoting dangerous prison contraband, a violation of local law. The indictment alleges Boyce was in possession of a cell phone and a knife while he was confined in Golden Grove in April 2013.

West was charged with possession of prison contraband. The indictment alleges he had a shank - a homemade knife - while he was an inmate at Golden Grove in July 2013.

Michael Ford was charged with two counts of the federal crime of possession of prison contraband and one count of promoting dangerous contraband. The indictment alleges he was in possession of a shank and a cell phone while he was a Golden Grove inmate.

The U.S. Attorney's Office made a strong statement about the problem of prison contraband as it announced the investigation and search last week.

"The smuggling of contraband into Golden Grove is a serious offense that jeopardizes not just the inmates and corrections officers but the entire community," U.S. Attorney for the Virgin Islands Ronald Sharpe said in the release.

The release also quoted Vito Guarino, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Caribbean Division, saying that shanks, knives, and controlled substances pose an obvious danger to inmates and corrections officers.

"As the search warrant affidavit shows, cellular telephones in the hands of inmates also pose a serious threat to the security of the prison. They can be used to commit further crimes, run criminal organizations from inside prisons, intimidate witnesses, plot escapes, and facilitate drug trafficking inside the prison," Guarino said in the release.

Contraband has long been considered a widespread problem at the prison, and is frequently mentioned in a civil case over unconstitutional conditions of confinement at Golden Grove that the U.S. Justice Department has been litigating against the territory for 27 years.

Meanwhile, Government House has remained silent since the search on the issue of prison contraband, on allegations about corrections officers, and on the raid itself.

The ongoing investigation leading to the search warrant was led by the St. Croix Drug Enforcement Administration High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force, which includes officers from the Virgin Islands Police Department, with assistance from the FBI.

- Contact reporter Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi.

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