May 4, 2017 / 9:20 PM / 4 months ago

Inmate, girlfriend charged with running Atlanta prison taxi

(Reuters) - A prisoner at an Atlanta federal penitentiary and his girlfriend were arraigned on Thursday, accused of running a taxi service that took inmates to restaurants and hotels before sneaking back into the facility with alcohol, cell phones and cigarettes.

Inmate Deldrick Jackson, 41, and his girlfriend, Kelly Bass, 38, provided rides for a fee to men who escaped a federal minimum-security prison camp from November 2016 through April, U.S. prosecutors said in court documents.

Prosecutors say Bass, using her Acura SUV, would wait outside the facility for prisoners. Sometimes she took them for rides, other times she simply handed them bags of goods, according to court documents.

She received $4,000 in payments in six months from inmates using a phone app with an account linked to her before the couple was caught during a jailbreak in April, court records said.

Lawyers for Jackson and Bass could not be reached for comment.

Atlanta police and FBI investigators say the round-trip jailbreaks have occurred at the prison since early 2013, with inmates escaping through holes in fences and leaving on foot or by car.

But rather than fleeing for freedom, they returned to the prison with hard-to-get items behind bars, such as tequila, cigars and nail clippers, court records show.

Investigators installed cameras in January near a fence where holes had been cut. Videos from those cameras showed at least one instance in which Bass gave a ride to Jackson and a group of inmates. The video evidence led to a series of recent arrests, including that of Bass and Jackson, who was serving time for cocaine dealing and money laundering.

The two face federal charges of conspiring to assist inmates to escape from the prison and for escaping and assisting in the escape from the facility.

Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and David Gregorio

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