Authorities have accused a Houston lawyer of using professional visits to a county jail to smuggle legal documents containing ecstasy and synthetic marijuana to inmates.
Ronald Lewis, 77, was arrested Friday after arriving at the Harris County Jail in Houston to visit an inmate, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said at a news conference.
When he was arrested, Lewis had 11 sheets of paper that were believed to contain narcotics, authorities said.
Lewis was charged with two counts of introducing a prohibited substance into a correctional facility. He is free after posting bonds totaling $15,000. An attorney for Lewis did not immediately return a call seeking comment Monday. State Bar of Texas records show Lewis has been a licensed attorney since 1982.
His arrest comes after a months-long investigation by the Division of Criminal Investigation and Security, a new unit created earlier this year to investigate an increase in drug overdoses in what is Texas’ largest county jail , Gonzalez said.
In June, following the possible drug-related deaths of two inmates, the new unit began investigating reports that illegal narcotics were being smuggled into the prison in documents sprayed or dipped in a chemical compound, a said Sheriff’s Office Lt. Jay Wheeler.
Investigators received information that led them to Lewis.
Authorities say that between July and this month, Lewis visited 14 inmates at the prison and provided them with sheets of paper containing drugs, which were disguised as legal mail or other legal documents, Wheeler said.
Lewis was paid between $250 and $500 per transaction to smuggle the logs, authorities said.
During the investigation, approximately 154 sheets of paper suspected of containing narcotics were confiscated, Wheeler said.
“We are currently working with the Texas Rangers to determine if any of the narcotics brought into the prison by Mr. Lewis contributed to the death of an inmate,” Wheeler said.
Other attorneys are also suspected of smuggling drug-laced materials into the jail, but “we don’t think it’s really widespread,” Gonzalez said.
“There are incredible attorneys who honor their oaths and work very hard to take care of their clients and make sure they represent them effectively,” Gonzalez said. “There will always be those who choose illegal ways of doing things…and if they do, it doesn’t matter who they are. We will make sure to thoroughly investigate and hold them accountable.
Gonzalez said the county jail is like others around the country that have seen an increase in overdoses. The county jail has seen at least 18 inmate deaths this year, some believed to be drug-related.
To limit the entry of illegal drugs into the jail, the sheriff’s office is transitioning to a new system that will digitize inmate documents, including legal documents and letters.
“We’re going to continue to raise the bar and do everything we can to ensure that we maintain a safe facility, as safe as possible,” Gonzalez said.
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