Crime & Courts

Former NC correctional officers accused of smuggling cellphones, contraband to inmates

Inmate Kelvin Melton
Inmate Kelvin Melton

Two former state correctional officers were charged Monday in federal court in connection with a bizarre kidnapping case in which a prison inmate is alleged to have orchestrated an intrastate scheme with a contraband cellphone.

Gregory Dustin Gouldman, 31, at Polk Correctional Institute from 2005 to May 2015, is accused of smuggling mobile phones, tobacco, marijuana and packages of AA batteries into a “high-security maximum control unit.”

Jason Dean, 29, a pawn shop worker who was hired at Polk in 2014, is accused of extorting “things of value” from inmates and lying to FBI agents and a federal grand jury investigating contraband smuggling after the kidnapping in 2014 of a Wake County prosecutor’s father.

Kelvin Melton, 50, described as a high-ranking Bloods gang member, is accused of using a contraband phone inside Polk prison, where he was serving a life sentence, to retaliate against the assistant Wake district attorney who prosecuted him in 2012. He was convicted of assault, with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and inflict serious injury and being a habitual felon.

Melton, according to the indictments filed in his federal court case, devised at least two schemes from the maximum security prison cell – one to go after his prosecutor and another targeting his defense attorney.

Prosecutors contend the attempt to go after the defense attorney was aborted. Instead, Melton offered his co-conspirators $10,000 each to help carry out an interstate kidnapping plot that stirred up questions about who on the inside aided the prisoner to mobilize people from Georgia to Louisiana and North Carolina.

Frank Janssen, the 63-year-old father of Wake prosecutor Colleen Janssen, was kidnapped from his Wake Forest home on April 5, 2014. Colleen Janssen was the assistant district attorney assigned to Melton’s 2012 case, which stemmed from the 2011 shooting of a man.

A four-day interstate manhunt followed Frank Janssen’s kidnapping, as investigators monitored texts and mobile phone calls sent to his wife. A team of federal agents rescued Janssen from an Atlanta apartment on April 9, 2014, and he was reunited with his family a day later.

Moving contraband

The indictments accusing Gouldman and Dean of moving contraband through the maximum security prison unit offer a glimpse of a culture of dealings between prison guards and the inmates for whom they are responsible.

Though Polk was initially intended to be a correctional institute for youth offenders, it morphed since its opening in 1997 into a facility that also houses some of the state’s “most violent and assaultive offenders” in solitary confinement. The inmates are fed in their cells, not in a communal eating area, and restricted to one hour of recreation each day in an empty room adjacent to their cells.

Inmates at Polk are prohibited from possessing tobacco products, alcohol, matches, lighters, U.S. money, illegal drugs and cellphones. They are limited to a certain number of batteries.

Gouldman started out at Polk assigned to a variety of areas. He rose through the ranks of correctional officers, serving as a captain’s clerk from 2008 to 2011 and then, in December 2011, was promoted to sergeant. In August 2012, he was assigned to the maximum security unit as the sergeant in charge of the night shift.

In that role, he was in charge of a number of correctional officers and was able to have contact with inmates without a second person present. In solitary confinement, Polk inmates also are prohibited from passing notes, or “kites,” to other inmates. The exchange of books also is not allowed.

But correctional officers, also prohibited from bringing tobacco products, phones, alcohol and illegal drugs behind the locked doors, sometimes brought cigarettes and alcohol inside, according to the indictments issued Monday.

To keep prisoners from throwing feces and urine at correctional officers – a practice referred to as “gas” or “gassing” – officers sometimes allowed the “passing of kites” and other items between inmates, the indictment states. Odors in the hallways at Polk also revealed that inmates had been smoking cigarettes and marijuana.

The indictment alleges that some time in early 2014, Gouldman set up an arrangement in which he retrieved cigarettes from his car in the darkness and delivered them to at least one inmate for $50 a pack.

In February 2014, according to the indictment, the correctional officer agreed to provide that inmate with a TracFone he had purchased at the Dollar Store for $7, in exchange for $300 from the inmate. The phone didn’t work well, according to the indictment, and the sergeant agreed to meet the inmate’s girlfriend at a gas station near Butner to receive a package to smuggle in for the inmate.

The indictment does not name the inmates.

Cigarettes and phones

After using a TracFone to contact the inmate’s girlfriend, a ploy used to cover up any traceable phone connection, the sergeant picked up the package and smuggled it in for $425, according to the indictment. The package, prosecutors say, held a cellphone, money, two packs of cigarettes and a cigar.

The officer, prosecutors contend, was paid through electronic Green Dot money transfers that eventually landed in a PayPal account. That money then was transferred to the officer’s checking account, according to the indictment.

Gouldman also is accused of meeting a man at a gas station near Crabtree Valley Mall and picking up “a couple hundred bucks” and a sock filled with marijuana, some of which he is accused of keeping for himself and smoking. The accused then put the remaining marijuana into a cigarette pack and smuggled it to the inmate.

A similar incident occurred at Triangle Town Center, according to prosecutors.

The indictment offers details of delivery people smuggling in cellphones and marijuana in bags of fast food, potato chips and sub sandwiches. The contraband, prosecutors contend, was then passed to inmates in socks and other items.

The sergeant is accused of eventually agreeing to sell cigarettes for $25 a pack – tobacco products he said he smuggled in through boxes of latex gloves that went to the prison barber.

Dean, who worked at Hard Times Jewelry and Pawn in Henderson before being hired at Polk, is accused of taking a custom-made, gold teeth grill with fangs from an inmate that was designed to fit over his natural teeth. Instead of turning the piece in to his superiors, Dean is accused of selling it to the pawn shop where he used to work for $35. Dean is also accused of taking $200 from an inmate for cigarettes and never providing them.

“These men put many lives at risk for their own profit,” John Strong, an FBI special agent in charge, said in a prepared statement. “They were entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that North Carolina’s convicted criminals serve their sentences. Instead, this type of conduct made it possible for a dangerous gang member to reach outside of prison walls which led to the kidnapping of Mr. Frank Janssen.”

Strong said the FBI will continue its investigation. Melton has not gone to trial on the kidnapping charges.

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