A still from a rap video posted to YouTube features an AR-15 prosecutors say was purchased from a Philadelphia jail cell and paid for by a drug ring run inside the jails.

Philly corrections officer helped lead organized crime ring out of city jail cell, grand jury hears

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A man incarcerated in a Philadelphia jail was able to easily obtain cell phones and drugs, and direct the delivery of an AR-15 assault rifle to an associate seeking revenge for a murder in Southwest Philadelphia.

All he had to do, according to an unsealed grand jury presentation Wednesday, was place an order with the Pizza Man.

It was the nickname, according to court documents, of corrections officer Khalif Workman, 30. The nine-year veteran of the department is accused of accepting more than $23,000 in bribes over two months last year in exchange for helping a prisoner, Barry “Bones” Garland, run a criminal enterprise from Riverside Correctional Institution, a city jail.

Workman, Garland and an alleged accomplice were arrested in September on charges of corrupt organization, while a fourth man was charged with unlawful possession of firearms and other offences. A warrant has been issued for the arrest of a fifth person, Ashline Garcia Cruz, while others are still being investigated, the district attorney’s office said.

Workman was released on an unsecured bond of $500,000. He hung up without comment when reached by phone on Thursday. Garland remains in jail, represented by the city’s public defender’s office, which declined to comment on her behalf.

Assistant District Attorney Daniel Margolskee said additional arrests are underway in connection with the conspiracy.

“What is quite remarkable and shocking is that from inside the prison he was able to … direct the illegal transfer of an AR-15, in connection with or in response to the killing of one of his colleagues on the outside, which is part of perpetuating the cycle of violence.

READ MORE: 29 people have died in Philadelphia prisons during the pandemic. City officials said they had done “a good job.”

The alleged crimes span the summer and fall of 2021, a year when prison staff and prisoners have often described the air there as thick with the chemical haze of K2, a synthetic drug. That year, 18 people incarcerated in the Philadelphia Department of Prisons died, including three by homicide and at least four by drug overdoses. This year, at least nine more people have died at the compound, which houses about 4,500 people awaiting trial or serving short sentences on State Road in northeast Philadelphia.

The presentation details how Garland was able to direct the sale of drugs, cell block by cell block, through a network within the prisons. E Block, he texted a co-conspirator, should “make at least $500 a day.”

District Attorney Larry Krasner said he notified the mayor, jail commissioner and police commissioner of the charges. He said the case reflected the challenges faced by prisons during the pandemic, during which “despite all efforts, opportunities for criminal conduct have been created”.

A spokesperson for the Philadelphia Department of Prisons said in a statement that prisons have embraced new technologies, including “state-of-the-art mail scanning” and “body scanning” of incarcerated people. “We are in the process of installing the staff scanners at all entrances to the facilities,” the statement said.

Text messages captured in the file also suggest the operation was funding the purchase of guns, in a year when shootings in the city reached historic highs. Garland texted that his associates in the community “need more guns so I need the money to do this.”

An expert brought in last year, as part of a federal class action lawsuit brought by prisoners’ rights advocates over prison conditions, concluded that understaffing and lax enforcement allowed contraband to flow freely in prisons. Analyzing department data, he noted that while workers undertook more than 40,000 cell searches in 2019, they only did 2,000 in 2021 – yet they found five times as much contraband.

Another correctional officer, Haneef Lawton, was also arrested for smuggling drugs and cellphones into prisons last year. Lawton has pleaded guilty in federal court and is awaiting sentencing.

According to the presentation, a prison officer, acting on a tip, discovered contraband in Garland’s cell in October 2021. Workman resigned a few days later.

David Robinson, president of the Corrections Officers Union, AFSCME District Council 33 Local 159, said he was unaware of the former officer’s arrest. He said the K2 problem inside prisons had improved and the recurring riots of the past year appeared to have lessened.

“But,” he added, “it’s still dangerous.” There’s still a lot of craziness going on there. There are still blocks that are sometimes unstaffed because there are no staff.

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