July 28, 2011 — -- Some clever inmates at the Lake County Jail in Florida figured out a money-making scheme by allegedly scamming the jail's phone system. One inmate even made enough to post bond and get out of jail.
Inmate Larry Stone, in jail since April for property crime charges, noticed something unusual when he went to make a phone call on July 7. He dialed the number he wanted to call, but when the call went unanswered, he noticed that double the amount of money was returned to his account.
Stone, 32, allegedly spent the next three hours making 77 incomplete phone calls to local, long-distance and international numbers and raked in over $1,250, according to a report by the Lake County Sheriff's office. The amount was enough for him to post bond and leave the jail with a check for $50.69 from leftover money.
Soon after, other inmates started making a blizzard of incomplete calls. During the day, 256 inmate accounts were affected, according to the sheriff's report.
Jail officials, however, noticed the unusual phone activity.
"The jail's IT department noticed an unusual amount of phone calls being placed, all of which were incomplete," said Lt. John Herrell, spokesman for the Lake County Jail. "When we found out about it, we were shocked. We're not really sure how the word spread, but it was definitely going around and people were jumping on the bandwagon."
The jail alerted Global Tel*Link, the phone company that provides the jail's phone service, and the problem was quickly fixed.
Officials said the two servers had mistakenly been turned on to manage the system's transactions, instead of the usual single server.
The rates for inmate phone calls from the jail are $2.58 for local calls, $13.85 for long distance calls and $23.68 for international calls. So, if an inmate dialed a call and hung up before an answer or went unanswered, twice the amount would be credited back to their account.
One of the numbers Stone was dialing was a distribution center for Narcotics Anonymous in Ontario, Canada. Stone allegedly made $47.36 each time he called this number.
"It was clever and I think what helped them is that they could check their balances instantly," Herrell said.
Stone's freedom did not last long. After a day out of jail, he knew police were looking for him and turned himself in. He is now being charged with grand theft and scheming with the intent to defraud. These charges are separate from his previous charges and he could possibly be facing additional jail time.
Inmate Kevin Tomlinson, 18, was in the process of posting his own $1,400 bond when the jail figured out the scheme and put a stop to his release.
Herrell said that four or five inmates who also participated in the scheme received checks when being transferred to other correctional facilities, but all of the checks were recovered.
Since Stone is the only inmate who cashed a check, he is currently the only one facing additional charges from the jail.
Dorothy Cukier, executive director of Global Tel*Link said, "Following receipt of notification of the problem, the system was enhanced to prevent the duplicative operation of this program from ever occurring in the future."
The jail's contract with Global Tel*Link expires at the end of August and they are exploring other options for phone service providers.