Drug smugglers ‘come in all shapes and sizes’

An 85-year-old man accused of trying to bring marijuana to his grandson in jail recently was an eye opener for prison officials, but the act of smuggling drugs into facilities is nothing new.

Ohio prisons are on pace to see more smuggling incidents this year than last year when 243 people were caught in the act, according to the Ohio Highway Patrol, which investigates such incidents.

This year, prison officials have already investigated 168 incidents, ahead of last year’s pace. Of those, seven were at the Warren Correction Institution, compared to nine in 2009. At the adjacent Lebanon Correctional Institution, also a medium security prison, eight investigations were reported in 2009 and four this year.

“Attempting to smuggle forbidden items into prison has been ongoing since inmates have been incarcerated,” said Julia Bush, a spokeswoman for WCI.

Richard Heritz, of West Chester Twp., stepped onto the grounds of the Warren Correction Institution Aug. 13 to visit his grandson. Gregory Heritz had been incarcerated at the prison for two years, and had eight more to come from a burglary conviction out of Butler County, according to prison records.

Before Heritz saw his grandson, he was pulled aside by state troopers, who were acting on a tip they had received. A few hours later, Heritz was behind bars as well, accused of attempting to smuggle marijuana onto prison grounds.

If convicted, Heritz could face as much time in prison as his grandson. He was released on a $10,000 bond Monday after appearing in Lebanon Municipal Court. He is charged with attempting to convey drugs on the grounds of a detention facility, a third-degree felony, and possessing criminal tools, a fifth-degree felony. If convicted, he could face up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Because prisons maintain a list of approved visitors, all smugglers are close to the prisoner attempting to get the drugs, usually either a family member or spouse, Bush said. Otherwise there is no particular profile of a smuggler.

“They come in all shapes and sizes,” Hart said. “They try to sneak the drugs in a variety of ways.”

If police manage to intercept the smuggler before a hand-off is made, such as they did with Heritz, the prisoner who is the intended recipient of the drugs does not face any criminal charges because they never got the drugs, Bush said.

The prisoner will face disciplinary action within the prison, such as temporary removal from general population into an area with more rules.

Investigators declined to comment on how they find potential drug smugglers, but a review of cases details the many ways a smuggler can be unearthed.

Inmate phone calls and mail are monitored and screened, often providing clues to a planned rendezvous. Police also often receive tips from anonymous sources.

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