Female inmates face drug smuggling charges
FARGO — Cass County prosecutors have charged five jail inmates here in a drug smuggling operation that brought methamphetamines and illicit prescription narcotics into the jail for trade among inmates, sometimes for as little as a bag of chips.
All of the inmates charged in the smuggling ring are women.
The charges filed Thursday in Cass County District Court follow two cases filed late this past fall in Cass County involving drug smuggling by jail inmates.
Capt. Judy Tollefson, Cass County’s jail administrator, called the allegations of drug smuggling at the jail “unacceptable.”
“One inmate would be too much,” she said. “We’re just not that big a facility.”
Capt. Mitch Burris, the head of investigations for the Cass County Sheriff’s Department, said it was not the largest number of inmates he’d seen charged in a contraband case. He recalled a 1999 case in which eight or nine inmates were charged for smuggling in cigarettes, he said.
According to Forum of Fargo-Moorhead archives, inmates in that case smuggled marijuana and cigarettes through a broken glass block on the second floor of the old jail — which was replaced by the existing facility that opened in 2002.
Burris said the new case didn’t strike him as an unusual case of smuggling at a jail.
“I don’t think it’s out there at all,” he said.
According to court records, drug tests conducted on all the women at the jail showed 11 of them had methamphetamines in their systems – five of whom had been in the jail so long they would have had to have taken it while in custody. Court documents filed with the charges don’t specify when the tests were conducted or how many female inmates were in the jail at the time.
Charged in the new cases are:
— Laura Wishinsky, 26, of West Fargo.
— Sherry Sargent, 27, of Naytauwash, Minn.
— Amanda Fresquez-Hardt, 24, of Anchorage, Alaska.
— Chili Musselman, 50, of Glyndon, Minn.
— Kathy Jo Londo-Harr, 47, of Fargo.
All five were charged with ingesting a controlled substance, a misdemeanor, and possessing a drug as an inmate, a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Musselman and Fresquez-Hardt face felony drug dealing charges, including delivering meth — a Class A felony that can carry a 20-year prison term and has a mandatory minimum sentence of at least five years.
Jailers can ask inmates to take drug tests if they suspect them of being on drugs, but if an inmate refuses, officials must seek a search warrant, Tollefson said.
Men in the jail were not tested because the information didn’t warrant it, Burris said.
Female and male inmates are held in separate sections of the jail.
According to court documents, an inmate told a jailer Nov. 7 there was meth and heroin in the jail. The jailer contacted a Cass County drug task force officer, who noticed an inmate, Wishinsky, had dilated pupils and was displaying rapid speech and fidgety behavior.
A search of Wishinsky’s cell uncovered the antipsychotic Seroquel.
During an interview, Wishinsky told a county task force officer she traded two soda pops and two bags of pretzels for the Seroquel pill. She also got a half-pill for free from Sargent, who had a prescription, she said.
The detective also interviewed an inmate who told him that two or three weeks earlier, someone who was arrested brought drugs in with them, and the female inmates “then went crazy trying to get drugs.”
The inmates were also trying to get someone on work release to bring drugs back with them, she said.
There was heroin in the jail, too, the inmate said, but someone flushed it down the toilet Nov. 6.
Sargent told investigators Fresquez-Hardt brought in pills and meth for Musselman.
Sargent said she had bought Musselman a couple of sodas in exchange for Xanax pills and meth, and claimed Musselman used money from selling meth to the inmates to pay for her bail. The meth also came into the jail in the corners of envelopes, she said.
Fresquez-Hardt initially told investigators she did not bring in drugs, and claimed meth found in her system might have been from coffee she shared with Musselman. Prosecutors allege she later admitted to having brought drugs into the jail, telling investigators that, “When people threaten you, you do things you don’t ordinarily do.”
Fresquez-Hardt said she at first refused to smuggle drugs, but when Musselman’s husband visited her at church, she felt obligated to cooperate with the couple. She claimed he gave her a bag of meth and four Dilaudids, which is a narcotic painkiller.
She also told investigators she received a package of drugs from a person named Rick, who brought it to her at work. She told an officer she put the plastic bag containing a variety of drugs inside her vagina, then inserted a tampon to hide the drugs. The drugs included an anti-anxiety medication, a sedative, a drug used to treat addiction to opiates and a half a gram of meth.
Musselman was charged previously with hiding drugs in a plastic container in her person on Nov. 13, after she was jailed Oct. 23 on suspicion of possession of methamphetamines.
Tollefson said she did not anticipate major changes to search procedures because of the smuggling cases, either of inmates at initial booking or those returning from work release.
Cavity searches are only done with reasonable articulable suspicion, which Tollefson said was the legal standard.
Tollefson said one of the earlier smuggling cases last fall led to changes in how mail was searched. In that case, an inmate and one other person were charged after drugs in film form allegedly were hidden under stamps on letters addressed to inmates.
Tollefson said she could not comment on whether the investigation would lead to more charges.
Tollefson and Burris said that while the idea of drugs for a bag of chips is foreign to most people, commissary items become currency among inmates, and drugs can depreciate quickly.
“If they’re storing it in a body cavity, they may not want to store it very long,” Burris said. “It’s lost value.”