Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Public safety

Pinellas inmates can shop from cushy commissary accounts

TAMPA — Marterrence "Quat" Holloway sits in the Pinellas County Jail, charged with filing bogus tax returns. He may be lonely as he awaits federal trial. Bored, even. But there's one thing he probably isn't: junk-food deprived.

Since his Sept. 19 arrest, friends have fattened his personal jail spending account with at least $2,484 in deposits, funding more than 20 orders from the commissary, land of Bear Claws and Baby Ruth bars.

Still, Holloway is no jailhouse 1-percenter. In the Tampa Bay area, that distinction goes to a registered sex offender, Pinellas inmate David Brice Tyler. He had $23,572 cash on him when booked into the facility 18 months ago, records show, and the money kept rolling in.

His canteen balance as of Sunday: $29,511.

He awaits trial in Circuit Court, accused of stalking a young boy, failing to register as a sex offender and trying to have his aunt Fanny killed.

Twice a week, he shops the commissary. He spent $537 on extras in November, while the public fed him and kept him at a cost of $106 a day.

• • •

What would you choose? Jail food, processed and likely stretched with soy fillers — or a perfect bite of popcorn and peanut M&Ms? Jail food — or summer sausage, set off with a side of cheese spread? Jail food — or brownies, swirling in a sip of mocha cappuccino?

Some inmates have no money and no choice. Jail food.

Others get a little green love wired from home, or sent by money order, or transferred through a jail kiosk. Then, without actually stepping foot in a store, inmates can order delivery of snacks, drinks, hygiene supplies, underclothes or slippers.

"The most popular items they buy are the snacks," said Hillsborough County sheriff's Maj. Mike Perotti, who oversees jail support services. "The creature comforts. A lot of cookies, a lot of honey buns, a lot of crackers and chips and that sort of stuff."

Jails already provide the basics: uniforms, undergarments, socks, slippers and three meals a day, produced at an average cost of about $1.12 per meal in Hillsborough. State law permits agencies to charge inmates a daily subsistence fee. Only some do. Pasco County charges $3. Pinellas, instead, collects a one-time booking fee of $20.

Private companies — Aramark Commissary in Hillsborough, and Keefe Commissary in Pinellas and Pasco — fulfill the merchandise orders from inmates.

The same companies also take gift orders from friends and families. (Pasco doesn't participate in that aspect of the program.)

Aramark's 21 "iCare" bundles, offered for Hillsborough inmates, range from $11.99 to $63.99, starting with a small medical kit. The $63.99 "Flavor Savor" includes 27 items and 72 portions, along the lines of Picante Beef Ramen and Double-Barrel Hot Shots. (Mercifully, Tums are part of the medical bundle.) There's a breakfast bundle, a spicy hot bundle and a birthday package of treats that includes two cupcakes.

Some bundles have playful sounding names: "Cookie Monsters" or, for a stationery kit, "Write Me Up."

But they're delivered to institutions where some, like Tyler and Holloway, face serious charges.

• • •

Tyler, 55, served 18 years in Ohio on a charge relating to the sexual assault of a minor.

Last summer, he was charged with stalking a boy in Pinellas. Within days of his release on bail, authorities learned he had failed to register as a sex offender. When deputies rearrested him at a restaurant, he carried $23,572, fueling speculation that he intended to flee.

An aunt testified against Tyler at a bail hearing. His bail was first increased and then revoked after Tyler tried to set up a scheme from inside the jail to have the aunt killed, according to Assistant State Attorney Scott Rosenwasser. A trial is scheduled for March.

Tyler's sister, who doesn't keep in touch with him, said he inherited all that money. Since his arrest, checks totaling $15,467 have followed him to the jail, records show. They came from investments, said his attorney, Deborah Moss.

Tyler has spent more than $7,000 on commissary items and phone cards since arrested.

Holloway, 33, an east Tampa drug felon, is detained in the Pinellas jail under a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service. Tampa police say they found him filing false claims for tax refunds in other people's names and showing associates how to do the same. IRS-Criminal Investigations brought charges.

While he's in jail, women on the outside send money. He saves more of it than he spends. On Christmas Day, his commissary balance was $1,896.

Kalvina Neves, 22, who identified herself as Holloway's girlfriend in an August police report, has sent deposits totaling $783, jail records show.

"It's nobody's business," she told the Tampa Bay Times.

Another woman, Trenecia Young, 30, sent Holloway deposits totaling $1,130. She's on a waiting list to receive federally subsidized housing, according to the Tampa Housing Authority. She could not be reached for comment, and her relationship to Holloway is unclear.

• • •

It's common for inmates to have nothing in their commissary accounts.

When the Times checked in mid December, no one in the Pasco or Hernando County jails had more than $400.

Hillsborough County puts a $1,000 cap on jail accounts but makes an exception for people who carried larger sums at the time of booking.

A few people in the Pinellas jail had more than Holloway but much less than Tyler.

"In general, I think it's possible people would use the money they have in their commissary accounts to make friends and sometimes help try to obtain favorable testimony," Pinellas prosecutor Rosenwasser said.

Maj. Perotti in Hillsborough works to block any kind of bartering or gift-giving. "It's a foregone conclusion that a barter system or anything that amounts to currency is a dangerous thing within a detention facility," he said.

For that reason, inmates aren't allow to buy items for other people in their pods. Perotti won't say it doesn't happen, but there are safeguards. For example, booking numbers are etched into electronic equipment.

Jails also scrutinize products to ensure they can't be used as weapons or to alter the color of clothing.

"First and foremost in my mind is how can this product be manipulated to be a security risk," Perotti said.

Radios have clear outer housings so that they can't be used to hide contraband. Pens have to be flexible.

The commissary assortment and prices vary from one jail to the next. Pinellas has cheaper candy and a bigger selection of ramen noodles. Hillsborough? Sudoku and word find books.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.

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