In the 1990s, when the War on Drugs was in full tilt, one of the most notorious abuses of phone privileges in American prison history took place at USP Lewisburg, a Pennsylvania facility ran by the Bureau of Prisons. The feds said Rayful Edmond, a convicted drug lord from Washington DC, serving a life sentence, sold over 19,000 pounds of cocaine from his cell block in federal prison. Lewisburg was crowded with convicted large scale drug dealers and the dealers were doing a bustling business inside the prison, setting up deals for friends and associates on the outside. Making the most of his circumstances, Edmond reinvented himself, becoming a broker and bringing prisoners with sources of cocaine together with his friends and dealers back home who had the customers.
“It is intolerable that criminals who were incarcerated for the precise purpose of protecting our citizens have instead been able to use the prison facilities as their home offices for creating and commanding narcotic enterprises that have left nothing in their wake but death and destruction on the streets of our city,” US Attorney Eric Holder said upon revelations of Edmonds activities. Rayful wasn’t in Lewisburg two weeks before the FBI started getting reports that he was still dealing. The clever Edmond just moved his headquarters to the penitentiary. “It was so much easier to sell drugs in prison,” Rayful said. “Because you’re right there where the people that have direct access to the narcotics that you need- Colombians, Cubans, Mexicans.”
Just a few short months after arriving at USP Lewisburg Rayful met the men who would propel him back into the life of a drug kingpin, a life that he and the authorities thought was over. Sharing the cell block with Rayful was Dixon Dario Trujillo-Blanco. His brother Osvaldo, known as Chicky, was just a cell block away. The three convicted drug lords quickly bonded. “He had a high profile case, I had a high profile case.” Rayful said of the introduction. “This is Chicky. This is Ray.”
The Trujillo-Blanco brothers were the sons of Griselda Blanco, an influential figure affiliated with the Medellin drug cartel headed by Pablo Escobar. Dubbed the Godmother of Cocaine, Griselda was considered royalty in the drug trade. She introduced her sons to the business at an early age and turned to her top financial advisor and favorite hitman to instruct her sons on the distribution and killing end of her business. The Trujillo-Blanco/Rayful Edmond match was one made in drug dealer paradise as the brothers became Edmond’s new business partners, making it snow on our nation’s capital.
“It’s amazing,” an FBI agent said. “Prison is like a college where people with similar backgrounds and interests meet and become friends.” With this new friendship Rayful managed to mastermind the shipment of more than two tons of cocaine from the coca fields of Colombia to the streets of the District of Columbia from his prison cell. He took advantage of every privilege at USP Lewisburg, using the phones to arrange introductions of Washington DC dealers to Colombian suppliers. One afternoon Rayful made 54 calls to four states and two foreign countries, occasionally using two lines at once. His contacts on the outside set up conference calls for him to Colombia and he used the prison mails and visiting hours to work out details of the meeting of the various parties.
“People are in prison making drug deals,” Rayful said. “I wanted to make more money. At that time my mindset was I had to still have people look up to me and prove that I was still capable of making things happen. I wasn’t making the money that I should be making. But you know, I was getting five grand here, ten grand there, which is good money for somebody that’s in jail and they’re doing time.” Prison didn’t deter Rayful Edmond, it made him an even bigger drug dealer than he ever was on the streets. So much for the War on Drugs.
“He was exceeding that which he did when he was running what had been the largest drug operation in DC history,” US Attorney Eric Holder said. “He was doing about 400 kilograms of cocaine per month while in prison.” For his role as matchmaker, Edmond collected commissions based on the amount sold. His commission payments were picked up by various associates who distributed the money as Rayful directed, to friends and family members and to lawyers who were working on his appeal.
Explaining how Rayful had been allowed to build another drug empire from prison using monitored phones, FBI agent Richard Rodgers explained, “Rayful Edmond was not perceived by me to be any significant criminal individual in which the FBI may have had an interest, as he had just been sentenced to prison, he was simply one of many drug dealers, even large scale drug dealers, who was confined at USP Lewisburg.”
Rodgers also said that the approximately 1200 inmates at Lewisburg placed more than 80,000 calls a month. Given this volume of calls, Rodgers said the FBI would generally not open an investigation based on a single suspicious phone call by an inmate. In general, the authorities worried more about the violence in prison, than in any drug dealing going on outside in the world. Their main focus was to keep prisoners from killing each other.
Edmond was never punished for any of his illicit phone activities, despite the fact that the BOP noted that many of Edmond’s calls from prison were three way calls that were prohibited under BOP regulations. Federal officials were too busy focusing on other USP Lewisburg inmates, who were also apparently jamming the prison’s phone lines making drug deals. Enabling Rayful to escape notice for a while. He was just one of many, albeit one of the most successful in terms of sheer violence.
“I just enjoyed it,” Rayful said. “It was something for me to do. I was in jail and I had nothing to do. It’s just about everybody inside the jail in some way, shape or fashion is dealing drugs, either directly or indirectly.” On August 8, 1996, Edmond was convicted again, this time for conducting his drug business from a federal prison phone. Edmond received an additional 30 year sentence on top of the life sentence he was already serving, plus the feds seized $200,000 from him, deposited in various bank and prison accounts.
Edmond said that during his six year stay at Lewisburg the institution only had collect calling and inmates could call anyone who would accept the charges. He said telephones were available between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. daily. With his homeboys backing his play, Rayful had his own bank of phones, exclusively for his personal use. He would talk on the telephone “all day long” and make arrangements for drug deals daily. He estimated that almost half of Lewisburg’s inmates were involved in making drug deals.
“The temptation is there, you got people every day, different people coming here to hook up drug deals.” Rayful said. According to Edmond, more than half of inmates telephone use was for “doing wrong.” Edmond said that prisoners were not concerned about conducting drug deals on prison telephones because they knew that the telephones were monitored for internal security of the prison and not to prevent inmates from dealing drugs on the outside. That was outside the Bureau of Prison’s jurisdiction.
Even if his conversations were monitored, Edmond said that the guards working in prisons in rural areas, who had no contact with the urban environment and had no “street knowledge,” were particularly unfamiliar with the language used in such telephone conversations. He said the details of a drug deal could be expressed in ten seconds. “You should see my new girlfriend. She is six feet tall. She lives down where we used to live on 22nd Street,” was the example Rayful used. This seemingly innocuous statement meant that he had six kilos of cocaine to sell for $22,000 each. “I could stay in here 100 years and it’s not going to change anything,” Rayful said and he’s right. The War on Drugs is a complete and utter debacle and failure. Its time our government recognized this. If the people who are locked up for selling drugs continue to run their outlaw empires buried in the belly of the beast, what is the point?
Check out this book coming soon from Gorilla Convict to read more on Rayful Edmond.