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Three men charged with smuggling contraband into the Pinellas County Jail

LARGO — Inmate Phillip William Henderson spoke with conviction and a tinge of panic Monday evening when he dialed out from the Pinellas County Jail. He knew the call was being recorded, but this was urgent.

The nylon cord authorities say he and another inmate dangled from a sixth-floor rain drainage hole to smuggle in jail contraband had snapped. A bag containing approximately $1,500 in banned items had fallen out of sight.

Authorities say Pinellas Park resident Eric Scott Snook, 41, had attached the plastic bag filled with marijuana, tobacco, lighters and other items to the cord so the two inmates could reel it in. But by the time the string broke, Snook had already left.

"Eric, listen to me, dog," Henderson said in the prepaid call to Snook. "You've got to come back. We can't leave it (lying) on the ground, bro."

No matter how much Henderson pleaded, Snook wasn't coming back.

"Man, what the h- - - was I thinking?" Snook responded near the end of the call.

Investigators found the bag perched on a fourth-floor overhang shortly after 9 p.m. Monday, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said at a news conference at the jail Thursday.

Based on tips from other inmates, an investigation was launched and two of the "fishermen" in the jail were caught, Gualtieri said: Henderson, 38, and Mark "Red" Keating, 45, both of St. Petersburg.

They arrested Snook, 41, at his home Wednesday evening.

Authorities believe that Henderson and Keating smuggled contraband into the jail up to nine times over the course of two months. An investigation is still ongoing.

All three men face felony charges of introducing and possessing contraband in a county detention facility.

"I never would've envisioned this … this is really pretty brazen," Gualtieri said.

Henderson and Keating traded the contraband to other inmates in exchange for goods sold at the commissary store, where a single cigarette can cost as much as $4, authorities said.

The balance in Henderson's commissary account is currently -$39.48, while Keating's balance is $10.21, according to jail records.

Keating has been in jail since March 2012 on charges of grand theft, armed bank robbery and two counts of violation of probation. Henderson was jailed in June on grand theft and petty theft charges.

The jail, which installed $215,000 full-body scanners two months ago to help detect banned items, is exploring ways to prevent contraband from similarly entering the facility in the future.

Work crews this week began installing a 6-foot-tall chain-link fence around the outside courtyard where the string dangled to the ground, Gualtieri said.

"When you think you've seen it all, something (like this) happens," he said. "We seem to have had a lot of firsts lately."

Matt McKinney can be reached at mmckinney@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4156. Twitter: @mmckinne17.

Three men charged with smuggling contraband into the Pinellas County Jail 08/01/13 [Last modified: Friday, August 2, 2013 12:10am]
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