2 men accused of conducting inmate release scam

Published 12:42 am Sunday, December 13, 2009

Appearing in court Friday in shackles and a red jumpsuit, Monterro Paul looked little like the DEA agent he’s accused of impersonating in an alleged scam that promised prisoners they could get out early for a hefty fee.

Paul, 36, allegedly claimed to work for the DEA and told an undercover FBI agent he could get prisoners released early for fees up to $200,000 through a scheme that involved setting up drug dealers for arrest, according to court records.

A former DEA informant from New Orleans with a long criminal history, Paul was in U.S. District Court in Jackson on Friday with his alleged accomplice, Mark Amos, another convicted felon from Louisiana.

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U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda Anderson said there was enough probable cause to hold the men and present the case to a grand jury. They have pleaded not guilty.

The FBI claims the scheme began with Paul claiming he could get inmates’ sentences reduced by using a $15,000 down payment to arrange a drug deal. The drug dealers would be arrested and the inmate would be given credit for tipping off authorities, which would result in a sentence reduction.

FBI agent Jeremy Turner told the court Amos’ role was to tell the scam victims that Paul had helped him get out of prison the same way. Amos actually had seven years shaved off his nearly 20-year drug sentence in 2005, but Turner said Paul had nothing to do with it.

Under questioning by Amos’ attorney, Hugh Tedder, Turner said authorities have no evidence Amos specifically claimed to be a DEA agent, even though he’s also charged with impersonating a federal officer or employee. The grand jury could indict him on another charge, like conspiracy for example, or decide there’s not enough evidence.

Paul, however, is accused of convincing officials at the federal prison in Yazoo City in central Mississippi that he was a DEA agent and was allowed to speak to inmates by phone, Turner said. It’s not clear what was said in those conversations.

Under questioning from Paul’s lawyer, Matt Tyrone, Turner acknowledged that none of the recordings in the sting captured Paul claiming to be a DEA agent. Turner said he gathered that information from interviews with people involved.

The men were arrested at the Jackson airport Dec. 4 when they met with a Texas woman whose husband is incarcerated at the federal prison in Yazoo City. Paul and Amos allegedly took a $15,000 payment from an undercover agent before being arrested.

Paul’s criminal record includes counterfeiting and drug charges. Amos has done time on drug charges. Turner said the men met at a federal prison in Texas.