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More Than 40 Prison Guards Indicted In Georgia On Drug Trafficking Charges

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Federal officials in Georgia today announced the indictments of 49 current and former corrections officers. They're accused of accepting bribes and smuggling contraband into prisons. From member station WABE in Atlanta, Molly Samuel reports.

MOLLY SAMUEL, BYLINE: The FBI investigation that led to these indictments didn't start with the guards. U.S. attorney John Horn says it started with prisoners.

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JOHN HORN: We began the investigation almost two years ago to focus on the problem of cell phones and contraband in state prison institutions.

SAMUEL: Horn says one inmate led to another, then to corrections officers and eventually to 11 prisons around Georgia. In addition to smuggling contraband into prison, the officers are accused of wearing their uniforms off duty to protect a drug trafficker who actually was an undercover agent.

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HORN: And the point, the benefit of doing that is that their presence would thwart and deter other legitimate law enforcement from investigating and preventing those crimes.

SAMUEL: In the past six months, the government has indicted more than 130 inmates and corrections officers in what the FBI calls Operation Ghost Guard. This is the end of that operation, but the agency says it expects there will be spinoff investigations. Horn says the scale of the criminal activity here calls for systemic change in the Georgia prison system. George's head of corrections agrees and says low pay and a lack of stringent background checks for the department's workers are partly to blame. For NPR News, I'm Molly Samuel in Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.