Two of the District’s top law enforcement officials are warning that dozens of federal prisoners with ties to Colombian rebel groups and international drug rings are a threat to security at the D.C. Jail and pose a risk of escape into the surrounding neighborhood.
The concerns have led city officials to ask the federal government for more money to provide security for the increasing numbers of prisoners, who are being held at the District’s corrections campus in Southeast.
Devon Brown, director of the D.C. Department of Corrections (DOC), outlined concerns about such prisoners in a U.S. District Court filing last month. The June 18 filing was part of a federal court battle over prisoner housing between the city and attorneys for a group of Colombian inmates indicted as being part of a cocaine ring.
Mr. Brown said an “unprecedented number” of city inmates - 60 in all - are thought to have ties to a Colombian drug organization.
Such prisoners must be kept separate from each other and “could easily use their skills and resources to coordinate unrest, violence or escape,” Mr. Brown said.
Of the 60 inmates, at least 20 are thought to be members of paramilitary groups that include the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), both of which have been designated foreign terrorist organizations by the State Department.
D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles confirmed that officials are concerned about possible dangers connected with housing the Colombian prisoners.
“I think it’s the question of dealing with folks who are connected to a larger organization, which has money and has abilities to bring to bear at the institution activities that would pose security problems,” Mr. Nickles said. “What started as a trickle has suddenly in the last few months become large enough that we’ve noticed it.”
He also said officials have asked “appropriate federal authorities” to provide the funds to protect against security risks.
Colombian inmates recently sent to the city for prosecution include, according to court records, federal officials and news reports:
c Salvatore Mancuso-Gomez: Charged in a conspiracy to import cocaine to the United States, Mancuso-Gomez was a member of the ruling counsel of the AUC, which engages in “drug trafficking, kidnapping, bombings, extortion and murder,” according to court documents filed in May 2008.
The New York Times reported that Mancuso-Gomez “oversaw atrocities like the massacre of 15 civilians and displacement of more than 600 people in 1997 in the town of El Aro.”
“He used his position in the AUC to control large areas of cocaine production through a paramilitary army, and to direct the operations of the drug-trafficking organization at every level,” the court documents state.
c Rodrigo Tovar-Pupo: Also facing drug conspiracy charges, he is said to have run the AUC’s Northern Bloc and has been accused of involvement in the killings of tribal members.
A laptop belonging to Mr. Tovar-Pupo seized by investigators contained details of more than 550 killings and showed evidence of links between paramilitaries and Colombian politicians. An October 2006 Reuters news agency article said the laptop also contained e-mails showing the commander “ordering his men to recruit peasants to act as paramilitaries during demobilization ceremonies, a trick that allowed him to keep his real fighters active while appearing to comply [with] the peace deal.”