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Officials: NYC Jail Searchers Find Apparent Escape Plot Following Smuggling Network Bust

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A Manhattan jail is the focus of scrutiny after authorities say a search that was done in the wake of a drug-smuggling case turned up an apparent escape plot.

According to New York City Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters, an inmate had neatly tied together 64 bedsheets and stashed them under the sink in his cell.

Manhattan Detention Center escape plot
Bedsheets turned into rope found stashed at Manhattan Detention Center, believed to be part of an escape plot (Credit: Handout)

Ernest Murphy, awaiting trial on an attempted murder charge, had created enough bedsheets together for him to shimmy down 11 stories from his cellblock to the street, city officials said Thursday.

"Thankfully, it was discovered before he had an opportunity to test his skills at making a getaway,'' Peters said.

Murphy didn't confess to an escape attempt, but authorities said there's no other logical reason for the sheets.

Officials: NYC Jail Searchers Find Apparent Escape Plot Following Smuggling Network Bust

In another case at the Manhattan Detention Center, a correction officer and a different inmate have been arrested, accused of smuggling drugs, cell phones, pliers and other items.

"The alleged participants in what's really a jailhouse shopping network, are indicted on felony charges, and they include promoting and attempted promotion of prison contraband, bribery, conspiracy and criminal possession and criminal sale of a controlled substance," District Attorney Cyrus Vance said.

Manhattan Detention Center smuggling ring
Contraband allegedly smuggled into Manhattan Detention Center by a correction officer (Credit: Handout)

Officials said Correction Officer Patricia Howard, a nearly 20-year veteran, worked in the detention center's mailroom.

According to court documents, inmate Tommy Davis allegedly had members of his family purchase the contraband and give it to Howard, who would then bring the items into the jail when she reported for work.

Howard then allegedly would deliver them to Davis and others for distribution. In exchange, Howard was paid hundreds of dollars in cash, court documents said.

"Officer Howard herself would collect a smuggling fee ranging from between $500 to $1,000 each time, and the inmates on the inside would collect their drugs and other contraband, often at several times their street value," Vance said.

The case was cracked after an undercover posed as an inmate. Investigators also used court authorized wiretaps.

Howard, 44, was arrested May 9 on a Harlem street in her uniform, holding a bag of contraband that included drugs, lighters and flashlights, and $800 -- her cut of the operation, officials said.

The criminal activities happened from December through last month, according to prosecutors.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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