Officials warn more arrests are expected as they crack down on drug use in correctional facilities on Oahu.

Three attempts to smuggle drugs into Oahu correctional facilities led to the arrests of five women Thursday as part of an investigation dubbed “Operation Paper Shredder.”

The Department of Public Safety believes inmates influenced their family members or associates to try to smuggle the drugs inside, according to a written statement announcing the arrests. Authorities warned the crackdown will continue.

“To those who want to smuggle drugs into our facilities, I say this to you: We will come for you, we will find you, we will arrest you, and we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law, whether you are a citizen, an inmate, or a staff member of the department,” said Public Safety Director Tommy Johnson.

Remnants of the quarry in Halawa frame what is called 'Main Street' as inmates traverse from modules to modules. file photograph from 2015 December.
One of the three cases involved drugs smuggled into Halawa Correctional Facility, the state’s largest prison. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017)

Johnson told reporters at a press conference at the Capitol that the investigation involved a task force made up of narcotics agents, internal affairs investigators and deputy sheriffs, with help from Hawaii County police. He said there will be more arrests “for sure.”

“Public Safety’s Corrections and Law Enforcement Divisions have been working hand-in-hand on these cases to stop contraband from making it into the jails and prisons,” said Johnson. “The efforts by corrections staff to intercept the drugs and turn them over to law enforcement prompted each of these cases, resulting in arrests.”

Johnson said one of the cases involved drugs that were smuggled into the Halawa Correctional Facility, Hawaii’s largest prison, but he declined to name the other Oahu facilities involved.

Methamphetamine was involved in one case, while drugs soaked into letters were intercepted in the other two, he said.

He declined to say what sort of drugs were detected on the paper. Two inmates died at Halawa in 2021 from toxic reactions to the drug “spice,” which staff believe was soaked into letters that were mailed to prisoners there.

Public Safety Director Tommy Johnson warns there may be more arrests as authorities crack down on drugs in prisons. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

In the past two years the department has seen “more and more” cases where paper soaked in drugs is mailed to inmates, drugs are concealed behind the stamps on mail or hidden in hollowed-out portions of thick packets of legal papers, Johnson said.

One of the cases announced Thursday triggered the arrest of Michelle Soto, 35, who was suspected of supplying 29-year-old Kimberly Cambra with drug-soaked paper.

Cambra then allegedly prepared mail destined for an inmate at an Oahu correctional facility, and gave it to 27-year-old Tiffany Fountain, who mailed the letter at a local post office. The letter was intercepted by Narcotics Enforcement Division agents, tested, and ound to contain a controlled substance. All three women were arrested.

In a second case, 42-year-old Annette Garcia was arrested in Hilo by state Narcotics Division Agents, with help from state sheriffs deputies and Hawaii County police, after a letter containing drug-soaked paper was intercepted at an Oahu correctional facility.

Suspect Katherine Sanee-Wong has previous convictions. (Courtesy: Hawaii Department of Public Safety)

A third case involved Katherine Sanee-Wong, 38, who was arrested after a letter containing methamphetamine was intercepted at an Oahu correctional facility by corrections officers. Sanee-Wong has previous convictions for second-degree robbery, first-degree burglary and identity theft.

The three cases are separate examples of people using similar methods to smuggle drugs, Johnson said. All five were arrested on one count of first-degree promotion of prison contraband, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Corrections officials moved the inmates believed to have been involved in the smuggling efforts into administrative segregation, where they will have fewer privileges than the general population. “If they can be charged, they will be charged as well,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the department has set aside some federal funding to explore the possibility of using drug detection machines to screen mail entering state prisons and jails.

The arrests come as staff at Halawa have reported increased drug use, including methamphetamine, among prisoners in the facility.

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