Commentary: Let SC prisons jam contraband cellphones to fight drug trafficking | Commentary


South Carolinians need to know three things when it comes to drug trafficking: The drugs in our state often come directly from Mexican drug cartels, the cartels are using S.C. prison inmates to facilitate the drug rings here, and they’re not planning on stopping anytime soon.

Just last week, my office announced more than 170 charges against 43 defendants in an investigation called “Las Señoritas” where South Carolinians with cartel connections were trafficking methamphetamine across the Upstate. Through our partnerships, law enforcement seized 25 kilos of meth, worth about $800,000, and 30 guns.

Less than a year ago, my office brought charges in a separate drug trafficking case involving another Mexican drug cartel. In that case, “Los Banditos,” we brought 124 charges against 34 defendants for trafficking fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, marijuana and Xanax out of a restaurant and its taco trucks. The restaurant served as the regional hub for drugs to be trafficked to other states.

So there’s no denying Mexican drug cartels have their targets set on South Carolina. The drugs poisoning our communities are coming from directly across the southern border. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is grossly mistaken.

South Carolina is prime real estate. For many of us, it’s a point of pride. Our pristine beaches and beautiful mountains attract millions of tourists every year, and our proximity and interstate access to big cities makes for easy weekend trips. We’re a small state situated in between two major hubs, Atlanta and Charlotte, and Mexican drug cartels see the convenience in South Carolina’s geography as well.

That’s why my office and our law enforcement partners across the state are committed to this fight. It’s our duty and top priority to keep South Carolinians safe, and we’ve got an army to do it.

My office has handled several state grand jury drug trafficking cases, with more than one directly linked to Mexican drug cartels. And in the past five years, we’ve had four drug trafficking cases in which S.C. inmates used contraband cellphones to facilitate and run drug rings from within the prison walls, including the most recent “Las Señoritas.”

This is unacceptable. We keep going back to the same problem: Cellphones being used by inmates to coordinate with people on the outside to facilitate drug rings.

We’re not naïve in this fight. We recognize as long as there are prisons, there will be contraband. But that does not mean we sit back and ignore the problem.

For the past five years, I’ve worked closely with S.C. Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling to get the Federal Communications Commission to give states the power to jam cellphones.

More than a year and a half ago, the FCC announced it was giving states the technology to pinpoint the contraband cellphones and send the information to the cellphone carrier to be shut off within five days. South Carolina was the first state to apply for and be approved to use this technology in 2022. But we are still waiting to move to the next step of approval. Nothing has changed since the announcement.

And here we are, busting another drug trafficking ring being facilitated, in large part, through contraband cellphones.

It makes no sense for federal prisons to have the authority to jam these cellphones, but not states. If states had the power to turn off these phones, we could significantly reduce the amount of criminal activity happening within the prison walls. I will not stop until that’s a reality.

Getting the poison of drugs off our streets, out of our communities, saving South Carolinians’ lives and bringing those responsible to justice is our obligation, and not one we take lightly.

So whether you’re a member of a Mexican drug cartel south of the border, an inmate facilitating drug rings on the outside or a small-time drug dealer, enough is enough. There’s an army coming for you.

Alan Wilson is South Carolina’s attorney general.

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