“Let States Jam Prison Cellphones,” says U.S. Attorney

South Carolina News

United States Attorney Sherri A. Lydon authored today an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal highlighting the public safety threat posed by contraband cellphones in prisons entitled, “Let States Jam Prison Cellphones” 

U.S. Attorney Lydon also announced a series of cases the U.S. Attorney’s Office has prosecuted in federal court to help stop the flow of contraband cellphones into state prisons and punish those who use them to harm the public.

“We do not put criminals behind bars only to have them continue their criminal enterprises from inside prison,” said U.S. Attorney Lydon.  “We will continue to use every tool available to us to stop this threat to public safety.  But until our state and local partners are permitted to jam cellphone signals in prisons, inmates with time on their hands and unrestricted access to the Internet will continue to run drug rings, scam innocent Americans, and perpetrate crimes that help them grow their wealth while incarcerated.”

South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) Director Bryan Stirling stated, “Because of contraband cellphones, criminals are physically incarcerated, however, they are virtually out there amongst us, continuing their criminal ways from behind our nation’s prison walls.”  

Among the cases the U.S. Attorney’s Office has prosecuted with the assistance of SCDC and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) are:

SCDC Prisoner and Co-Conspirator Sentenced to Federal Prison for Roles in Dark Web Mail Bomb Plot:

In April 2018, a federal jury convicted Michael Young, Jr., and Vance Volious, Jr., both of Columbia, of dealing drugs and plotting to kill Young’s ex-wife with a mail bomb they bought with bitcoin from the Dark Web.  While incarcerated in SCDC, Young obtained a contraband cellphone, which he used to run a drug business distributing marijuana he obtained from a California supplier and from the Dark Web.  Drugs purchased by Young were shipped to a conspirator’s residence before being picked up by Volious for re-distribution.

While this drug conspiracy among Young, Volious, and others was operating, the conspirators also plotted to kill Young’s ex-wife.  This was not the first time that Young had tried to kill her; he was serving a 50-year sentence after having been convicted of attempting to kill her and of murdering her father in 2007.

In February 2017, Young accessed the Dark Web from prison on his contraband cellphone and started a dialogue with an undercover FBI agent, whom he believed to be a foreign explosives dealer.  Young paid for a mail bomb to be sent to a conspirator’s residence in Irmo and for the re-shipment label addressed to his ex-wife to be sent to Volious’ house in Columbia.
Fears obtained the labels from Volious, armed the mail bomb, and was surveilled by the FBI delivering the inert explosives package to the Post Office in Irmo on June 6, 2017.  After a United States Postal Inspector recovered the mail bomb, Young, Volious, and co-defendant Tyrell Fears, of Irmo, were arrested on federal charges.

Young and Volious were convicted of conspiracy, transport of an explosive with the intent to kill, mailing a non-mailable explosive with the intent to kill, and carrying an explosive during the commission of another felony.  Fears pleaded guilty to carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony and conspiracy.  In February 2019, Young was sentenced to 525 months in federal prison, and Fears was sentenced to 120 months in federal prison. In March 2019, Volious was sentenced to 255 months in federal prison.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joint Terrorism Task Force, United States Postal Inspection Service, South Carolina Department of Corrections’ Division of Police Services, State Law Enforcement Division, South Carolina Information and Intelligence Center, Richland County Sheriff’s Department, Lexington Country Sheriff’s Department, Irmo Police Department, USC Division of Law Enforcement and Safety, and Columbia Police Department. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Will Lewis of the Columbia office and former Assistant United States Attorney Jay Richardson, with assistance from Dan Goldberg of the Fifth Circuit Solicitor’s Office.

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