PIKEVILLE — A pair of federal criminal complaints filed earlier this month point to a trend of visitors to the U.S. Penitentiary Big Sandy attempting to smuggle heroin into the prison.
Lashell Irene Epperson is charged in the first complaint with conspiring and attempting to distribute heroin to an inmate at the prison, during a visit to the facility July 6.
According to statements from two employees at the prison, Donald Newsome and John Stumbo, Epperson was part of a plot to introduce drugs into the prison.
Stumbo’s statement notes phone and email monitoring at the prison uncovered a plot to bring heroin in through Epperson. According to the statement, Epperson was instructed to obtain the drugs from a dealer and bring them with her when she went to meet with inmate Levon Lee, during a visit over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
Newsome details the discovery of the drugs in his statement. He says he approached Newsome in the prison parking lot and informed her that he needed to conduct a random search of her vehicle, to which she agreed. After first checking the front and rear passenger side of the vehicle, Newsome says he noticed Epperson becoming “aggressive” and moving toward the vehicle as he approached the trunk, saying, “I don’t have anything. You can check all you want.”
Newsome says he began searching the trunk, where he discovered an eyeglass case containing two small plastic bags containing an unidentified brown substance. He confiscated the bags and finished his search of the vehicle.
After finishing his search, Newsome says he informed Epperson that he would need to confiscate her keys and hold her in custody until Kentucky State Police arrived.
The substance in the bags later tested positive for heroin.
In the second indictment, Crystal Chatman and Kriess Chatman are each charged with having a prohibited object in prison, namely heroin.
According to another statement by Newsome, he was informed by a special investigations officer who had been monitoring closed-circuit television cameras in the prison that Kriess Chatman passed what appeared to be narcotics to Crystal Chatman in a prison vending area, while the two were visiting the prison. After the pass, Crystal Chatman then proceded to the back of the vending area, where placed the object inside of some napkins near a microwave.
Newsome proceeded to the vending area, where he took possession of the unknown substance, after another officer seized it from Crystal Chatman. Both visitors were then escorted, along with a child who had accompanied them, to the main lobby, after which Crystal Chatman was taken to a secure area to be searched. That search turned up nothing else.
The Chatmans and the child were then detained until the arrival of Kentucky State Police. The two adults were taken into the custody, while the child was placed in the care of Social Services.
The cases of all three defendants have been referred to a federal grand jury for further consideration. Epperson and Crystal Chatman have since been released on bond, while Kriess Chatman remains in the Pike County Detention Center.