LUTZ, Fla. – It was a Florida prison inmate's escape that led investigators down a rabbit hole of sin involving a corrections officer and two strippers the sheriff says brokered deals for malt liquor, cigarettes and "conjugal visits in the woods."
It all unfolded in September, when inmate Jason Adams escaped from a work crew in suburban Pasco County, about 30 miles north of downtown Tampa. The corrections officer overseeing the crew, Henry Blackwelder, didn't tell his superiors of the escape until three hours later. When investigators arrived, they found empty cans of Straw-Ber-Rita and Four Loko malt liquor, empty packets of synthetic marijuana known as "spice," and a blanket in the woods used for hook-ups.
"Prison is supposed to be tough. ... It was basically a party out there," Sheriff Chris Nocco said during a recent news conference.
Adams, who was serving a six-year sentence for burglary and grand theft when he escaped, was caught a day later riding a bicycle. He snuck away after asking to relieve himself in the woods and never coming back.
Nocco says his arrest unraveled the 45-year-old Blackwelder's scheme.
Blackwelder immediately resigned after the escape. According to a report, detectives found that Adams left the work crew on several occasions to buy booze, smokes and spice at Blackwelder's behest. Blackwelder would then get his work crew to smuggle the goods into the prison, the report said.
Blackwelder enlisted two exotic dancers who also worked at a convenience store, documents show, to help with the smuggling.
One of the women, 24-year-old Jessica Morgan, told deputies "she knew it was wrong" but did it because she had fallen in love with one of the inmates on the work crew. Morgan and 46-year-old Stacy Petty told officials they met with the inmates once a week for about a year.
Blackwelder was paid with cash and food for the contraband and would finish any leftovers from the food the two women brought for their inmate boyfriends, Nocco said.
"He was like Yogi bear out there eating their leftovers," said Nocco, who held a news conference on Tuesday and stood behind a table stacked with contraband, including "Scooby Snax" spice packets.
Blackwelder was charged Tuesday with official misconduct, unlawful compensation for official behavior and smuggling contraband into a state correctional facility. He was released on bail Wednesday. It is not clear if he has an attorney.
Morgan and Petty were charged with introducing contraband into a state correctional facility, giving alcohol to an inmate, and giving articles of food and clothing to an inmate. They are both being held on $20,000 bond at the Pasco County Jail, and records do not list an attorney for them.
Nocco noted that the work crew trysts went on even after Blackwelder resigned, leading Nocco to wonder if there aren't more corrections officers involved.
"The department is currently reviewing all policies and procedures related to community work squads to ensure the safety, supervision and security of all inmates and staff," the state Department of Corrections said in a statement.
Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush