BEHIND BARS

Inmates Built Secret Computer for Crime

Two enterprising prisoners assembled computers, hid them in the ceiling, and used them to download porn and steal identities.

Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

Two inmates at an Ohio prison confessed to hiding computers—which they built themselves—in the ceiling and using them to go online, download movies, and steal another inmate’s identity.

The mastermind behind the plan was Adam Johnston, an inmate at the Marion Correctional Institution and treasurer of the prison’s Green Initiative, which oversees projects including a community garden, the prison’s recycling program, and an initiative that teaches inmates to disassemble obsolete computers. According to an investigation by the Ohio Inspector General, Johnston admitted to the scheme and said fellow inmate Scott Spriggs built the two contraband computers. Spriggs “denied having any involvement” with the computers, but told investigators how Johnston carried out the scheme.

Johnston claims that Spriggs built the computers out of parts donated to the prison by Cleveland-area nonprofit RET3, an investigation by the Ohio Inspector General found. Inmates were supposed to take apart the computers and return them to RET3 for processing.

Instead, according to the IG’s report, prison employee Carl Brady allowed inmates to refurbish some of the newer computers for use at the facility. Brady, who was responsible for the prison’s IT support, also let inmates download software to wipe some of the computers’ memories, which he told investigators he was instructed to do by the then-warden.

Spriggs allegedly used his refurbishing skills to build two computers, which Johnston then smuggled out of the room used for RET3 projects. According to the IG’s report (PDF), Johnston moved the computers “from the RET3 area, across the institution, past a crash gate with metal detectors and a corrections officer, to an elevator, and up to the third-floor P3 training room in the administration building.”

“The regulars [corrections officers] are less likely to even stop you,” Spriggs told investigators when asked how Johnston managed to move the computers without being detected.

Johnston used prison employee Randy Canterbury’s password to connect the computers to the prison’s WiFi, investigators said. Canterbury was responsible for overseeing all Green Initiative operations, including disassembly of the computers, and told investigators that Johnston often helped him choose things to buy online for the program.

Canterbury said he didn’t “recall [Johnston] using the keyboard,” but that he hadn’t changed his password in several years. He retired from the prison in May 2015 and began working for RET3 the beginning of June 2015.

Johnston used the computers to take out five credit cards in the name of Kyle Patrick, an inmate at the Mansfield Correctional Institution, which were sent to his mother in Kettering, Ohio. Johnston told investigators he obtained Patrick’s Social Security number and date of birth through the Department Offender Tracking System, which he accessed using Canterbury’s credentials, and that he chose him because he was young and serving a long sentence.

He also used the computers to contact his mother and to access a Bloomberg Business article on tax fraud, which described how someone with valid Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and bank account information can obtain a tax refund on prepaid cards.

“He was gonna try to put some money on it so he could… give me money, help me out,” Johnston’s mother, Karen Gallienne, told investigators about the cards. (Gallienne did not respond to Daily Beast requests for comment.)

Johnston also used the computers to download pornography and other movies onto a thumb drive that was given to inmate Robert Cooper. “It was not just pornographic movies. It was the new releases, TV series, that’s all I would get,” Cooper told investigators, adding that he sold the thumb drive’s contents to other inmates in exchange for commissary items.

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Investigators say they also found that the computer was used to access articles about making homemade drugs and explosives.

According to Inspector General Randall Meyer, Bunting and other prison officials found out about the security breach on July 3, 2015, and failed to notify the necessary authorities until July 27 of that same year.

Bunting admitted to authorities that he knew inmates were accessing the internet before the computers were found. “I knew obviously illegal activity was going on,” he told investigators. When asked why he didn’t immediately notify the authorities, Bunting responded, “I don’t have that answer for you.”

Meyer confirmed that Brady has been placed on administrative leave. Bunting has since resigned from his position and is now superintendent of the Northwest Ohio Development Center in Toledo.

“We appreciate the time the Inspector General’s office has taken to conduct these investigations and we have already taken steps to address some areas of concern,” Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections spokeswoman JoEllen Smith told The Daily Beast in a statement.

“We will thoroughly review the reports and take any additional steps necessary to prevent these types of things from happening again. It is of critical importance that we provide necessary safeguards in regards to the use of technology while still providing opportunities for offenders to participate in meaningful and rehabilitative programming.”

Smith confirmed that Brady has been placed on administrative leave, but did not comment on Bunting. Johnston, Spriggs, Cooper, and two other inmates were moved to other facilities while the investigation was taking place, Meyer said.

“This is very similar to an episode of Hogan’s Heroes,” Meyer told The Daily Beast. “I’m dating myself; it’s a ’70s sitcom, basically, about a German POW camp where Americans had radios, they ran it, they did whatever they wanted. That’s exactly what was going on in the institution. The guards weren’t doing their job and were looking the other way, and they were able to communicate outside the institution.”

Meyer’s office forwarded the report to the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office and the Ohio Ethics Commission for consideration.

“It appears that the issue presented in the IG’s report concerning [the warden] are not matters within the authority of the Ethics Commission, though our staff has contacted the IG’s office to confirm our assessment,” Ethics Commission spokesperson Nick Paul told The Daily Beast.

“There was a question concerning a former training officer and whether he violated any of the revolving door laws raised in the report. That is a law that we have authority over so we’re asking the IG’s office for more information so we can assess that matter,” Paul added.

The Northwest Ohio Development Center, the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, and RET3 did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.