‘Drug empire’ was run by gang leaders inside SC prisons, federal indictment alleges

40 indicted in ‘largest federal racketeering conspiracy in SC history’

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A federal grand jury has indicted 40 people in what officials are calling the “largest federal racketeering conspiracy in South Carolina history.”

The indictment claims members of the Insane Gangster Disciples “ran a drug empire from prison using contraband cell phones and other means.”

Several defendants who were inmates at the time of the crimes were being held in the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC). Officials said they used cell phones they obtained illegally in prison to coordinate the crimes with those on the outside.

“These allegations, the use of contraband cell phones from behind prison walls, not only endangers the population of our prisons across South Carolina -- the staff, the administrators -- but every single community across South Carolina and beyond,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Lance Crick said.

One-hundred-forty-seven counts were handed down against 40 people in the indictments. Those charges include murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, extortion, arson, assault and battery, drug trafficking, money laundering, and obstruction of justice.

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“To anyone who would try to harm the people of South Carolina with violence, intimidation or extortion, we are coming after you wherever you are,” U.S. Attorney Peter M. McCoy Jr. said. “Neither pandemic nor prison walls will provide refuge from the full force of the federal government.”

As part of the indictment, 17 defendants face charges of conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

“The defendants allegedly operated a violent and lucrative drug enterprise on behalf of the Insane Gangster Disciples while incarcerated,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The department is committed to investigating and prosecuting gang-related crimes no matter where they occur, including holding those accountable who engage in criminal activity while in prison.”

The multi-year investigation also led to the seizure of 40 kilograms of meth -- worth about $4 million -- and 130 firearms, one of which was an automatic machine gun, officials said.

Officials believe the gang involved in this indictment trafficked $50 million worth of meth each year over the past three years.

They called upon legislators to pass cell phone jamming legislation that would allow state prisons to cut off the use of illegal cellphones behind prison walls.

“Because of cell phones, you are seeing why we are here today,” South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said. “This device is the reason that all of these people are standing here today and we have these crimes being committed.”

Stirling said they confiscate thousands of contraband phones every year, and both Stirling and Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott stressed that lives will be saved if action is taken.

More than 10 agencies were involved in the investigation over the last three years, including the FBI, SCDC, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, and multiple sheriffs departments -- including the Richland County.

“This is the result of unparalleled coordination between several state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Holloway said.

The following defendants have been charged in the indictment for conduct related to their alleged roles in the RICO conspiracy and/or related crimes:

  • Matthew J. Ward, a/k/a “Bones,” 36, of Lexington*;
  • Rebecca Martinez, 33, of Lexington;
  • Cynthia Rooks, 52, of Lexington;
  • Richard Ford, 62, of Lexington;
  • Amber Hoffman, 26, of Lexington;
  • Samuel Dexter Judy, 29, of Lexington;
  • Brian Bruce, 48, of West Columbia;
  • Montana Barefoot, 25, of Lexington;
  • John Johnson, 36, of Gaston;
  • Kelly Still, 43, of Windsor;
  • Benjamin Singleton, 46, of Lexington;
  • Kayla Mattoni, 38, of Lexington;
  • Alexia Youngblood, 38, of Lexington;
  • Clifford Kyzer, 35, of Lexington;
  • Kelly Jordan, 34, of Williamston;
  • Mark Edward Slusher, 46, of Lexington;
  • Robert Figueroa, 43, of West Columbia;
  • Tiffanie Brooks, 36, of Columbia;
  • Crystal Nicole Bright, 40, of Lexington;
  • Brittney Shae Stephens, 32, of Anderson;
  • Arian Grace Jeane, 26, of Greenville;
  • Lisa Marie Costello, 43, of Gaffney;
  • Aaron Corey Sprouse, 29, of Gaffney;
  • Matthew Edward Clark, 41, of York;
  • James Robert Peterson, a/k/a/ “Man Man,” 32, of Gaffney*;
  • Edward Gary Akridge, a/k/a “G9,” a/k/a “G9 the Don,” a/k/a/ “Eddie Boss,” 28, of Greenville*;
  • Aaron Michael Carrion, a/k/a “Cap G,” 28, of Lexington;
  • Heather Henderson Orrick, 33, of Greenville;
  • Virginia Ruth Ryall, 43, of Gastonia, North Carolina;
  • Lisa Marie Bolton, 32, of Dallas, North Carolina;
  • Catherine Amanda Ross, 28, of Gaffney;
  • Brandon Lee Phillips, a/k/a “Lil B,” 36, of Gaffney;
  • Billy Wayne Ruppe, 55, of Gaffney;
  • Windy Brooke George, 21, of Gaffney;
  • Juan Rodriguez, a/k/a “Fat Boy,” 40, of Woodruff*;
  • Jonathan Eugene Merchant, a/k/a/ “Merck,” 27, of Laurens;
  • Joshua Lee Scott Brown, 23, of Greenville;
  • Jennifer Sorgee, 36, of Easley;
  • Alex Blake Payne, 28, of Greenville; and
  • Sally Williams Burgess, a/k/a “Cricket,” 37, of Greenville

*These defendants were incarcerated at the time the alleged crimes happened, officials said.

Read the full federal indictment below:

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