JACKSON, Miss. — Stealing 90 pounds of pot and 16 guns from a Mississippi police department took ingenuity and several prison inmates — and the police chief says he’s relieved that guilty pleas in the case have lifted a cloud of suspicion from
JACKSON, Miss. — Stealing 90 pounds of pot and 16 guns from a Mississippi police department took ingenuity and several prison inmates — and the police chief says he’s relieved that guilty pleas in the case have lifted a cloud of suspicion from his agency. "I’m just glad this has lifted a black eye from the police department," Greenwood Police Chief Henry Purnell said. "At one time, people thought police officers took the guns." The last of eight suspects indicted on federal charges in the case — including several inmates, a janitor and a county road employee — pleaded guilty Monday. Authorities say prisoners stole the marijuana from an evidence vault and later took 11 pistols and five machine guns from a locked closet. Authorities say most of the guns, if not all, ended up in Chicago. Nine of the weapons were recovered there. The marijuana was never recovered. Purnell, who had refused to discuss the case in detail while charges were pending, described the brazen plan this week during a telephone interview with The Associated Press. Several inmates who were serving time at the Leflore County Community Work Center had job assignments at city buildings. They’d been working there so long "they knew the ins and outs of the police department," Purnell said. Between August and September of 2005, inmates Cedrick Lowery and Freddie "Fox" McGee figured out they could shut down electricity to the evidence vault and bypass a magnetic lock, Purnell said. Then they removed a vent on the roof, used a broom stick to trigger a latch inside the room and made off with the marijuana. In September 2005, Lowery and McGee, a 42-year-old inmate serving six years on a cocaine charge, figured out a way to get into a locked closet by removing a ceiling tile in an adjacent room, according to a 16-page federal indictment. The 30-year-old Lowery, who was serving a 10-year sentence for car theft and receiving stolen property, climbed into the closet and handed McGee 11 Smith & Wesson .40-caliber pistols, the indictment said. They hid the guns in trash bags at City Hall then smuggled them out with help from another inmate, Andre Redmond, a 35-year-old prisoner serving five years for accessory to auto theft. County road department employee Derek "Dee" Salley, who supervised Redmond, allegedly drove the inmate to pick up the guns, which Redmond hoped to sell to someone he called "Uncle Blood" in Chicago, prosecutors said. Redmond and Salley delivered the guns to Redmond’s girlfriend, who in turn delivered them to a relative of Redmond’s in Lexington, according to court records. Around the same time, Lowery and another inmate, John Camp Smith, allegedly stole five Colt M-16 machine guns from the closet. Lowery, McGee, Redmond and the other suspects have pleaded guilty to a range of felonies and await sentencing. A sentencing date has not been set. Eight of the pistols and one of the machine guns were found in Chicago, mainly during traffic stops, Purnell said. He said more arrests could be made in the Chicago area. Officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. attorneys office that prosecuted the case declined comment, saying a news release would be issued later Thursday. Purnell said he has improved security at the police department by beefing up the vaults and adding surveillance cameras. And now he won’t allow inmates to work there so long, so they won’t become too familiar with police procedure or department employees. The only department employee caught up in the scheme was a janitor, Purnell said. ______ Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.