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AP: 14 S.C. corrections workers charged over bribes, contraband smuggling

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- More than a dozen South Carolina corrections employees are facing federal charges related to bribery and bringing contraband into the state's institutions a week after a deadly prison riot, according to federal court documents obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The indictments against 14 corrections employees, including at least 11 officers, include charges of racketeering, bribery and wire fraud, and in some cases are connected to actions that allegedly took place as long as three years ago. The indictments unsealed Wednesday don't detail how much the employees are accused of accepting in exchange for smuggling drugs, cellphones and phone accessories into state prisons. 

READ: Are cell phones really to blame for spike in S.C. prison violence? 

Court documents didn't list attorneys for the defendants, who were expected to appear in court later Wednesday. Federal and state authorities also planned to hold a news conference. 

Prison Riot

A police vehicle sits outside the Lee Correctional Institution on Monday, April 16, 2018, in Bishopville, S.C. Multiple inmates were killed and others seriously injured amid fighting between prisoners inside the maximum security prison in South Carolina.

Sean Rayford / AP

The indictments were unsealed a little more than a week after a deadly riot at Lee Correctional Institution left seven inmates dead - and just one day after the AP quoted several people connected to correctional institutions as saying that cellphones, drugs and other contraband were flowing into prisons around the state while officers turned a blind eye, or helped to smuggle them.

South Carolina's Department of Corrections has long banned inmates from possessing cellphones, saying they pose a top security threat because they can help inmates commit crimes, such as coordinating drug distribution or plotting violent uprisings.

Citing understaffing as one of his agency's top problems, Corrections Director Bryan Stirling has repeatedly asked for more funding to allow him to hire additional officers. Since taking over the agency in 2013, Stirling has been able to increase officer pay and opportunities to earn overtime. 

But an inmate, defense attorneys and a person familiar with the operations of South Carolina's correctional institutions all told the AP for its previous story that the problem is not a lack of officers, but the inattention or collusion of current officers that is behind the contraband problem.

In recent years the agency has spent millions installing netting around institutions to catch packages thrown over the fences; contracted with outside law enforcement officers to patrol outside the grounds, and repeatedly called on the FCC to allow them to jam cellphone signals, thereby rendering the devices useless.