WARTBURG, Tenn. – A Tennessee prison inmate pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges he escaped from the Morgan County Correctional Complex, only to attempt to sneak back inside days later with a cache of illicit items to sell on the prison’s black market.
Robert Fusco, 37, was among eight people – including two former correctional officers – indicted earlier this month as part of the bizarre contraband scheme.
Fusco, who was serving a 68-year sentence for especially aggravated kidnapping, escaped the minimum-security facility Jan. 5, according an indictment. He was captured as he attempted to make his way back behind the prison walls Jan. 7.
Fusco reportedly attempted to smuggle drugs, cell phones and tobacco inside.
Three of his fellow inmates – William Richmond, 68; Cecil Kendall, 35; and Ethan Self, 26, are each charged with aiding him in the conspiracy.
The four inmates made brief appearances under heavy security during an arraignment in Morgan County Criminal Court on Tuesday.
Fusco’s former cellmate, 30-year-old Jarrett Tolley, who was on probation at the time, also is charged with smuggling hacksaw blades into the prison as part of plot, the indictment reads. Tolley is now living as a woman under the name Alyssa Tolley.
Neither the Tennessee Department of Correction nor prosecutors have specified Fusco’s means of escape.
Josh Sexton, 34, who served as a past president of the local correctional officers’ union, is charged in the conspiracy, as well as one count of official misconduct. Sexton attempted to smuggle unspecified contraband into the prison, hiding the items “under his groin,” according to the indictment.
A second former correctional officer, 29-year-old Megan Cheryl Jones, is charged with smuggling cell phones into the prison, tampering with evidence by later destroying one of the phones and having sexual contact with Fusco, the indictment states.
Elizabeth England, 30, a former contract staffer at the prison and Jones’ cousin, is charged in the conspiracy as well.
Tolley, Sexton, Jones and England all waived an appearance at the arraignment. They remained free on bond Tuesday.
TDOC officials confirmed that eight other correctional officers were fired in the fallout of the escape, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The warden of the Morgan County prison at the time, Shawn Phillips, was later transferred to a new post at TDOC’s Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville, Tenn.
Fusco is now being held as a maximum-security inmate at the Northwest Correctional Complex.
Judge Jeff Wicks set a status hearing in the case for Feb. 4, 2019.