Prosecutors: South Carolina prison supervisor took $219,000 in bribes; got 173 cellphones to inmates


COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A supervisor who managed security at a South Carolina prison accepted more than $219,000 in bribes over three years and got 173 contraband cellphones for inmates, according to federal prosecutors.
Christine Mary Livingston, 46, was indicted earlier this month on 15 charges including bribery, conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering.
Livingston worked for the South Carolina Department of Corrections for 16 years. She was promoted to captain at Broad River Correctional Institution in 2016, which put her in charge of security at the medium-security Columbia prison, investigators said.
Livingston worked with an inmate, 33-year-old Jerell Reaves, to accept bribes for cellphones and other contraband accessories. They would take $1,000 to $7,000 over the smart phone Cash App money transfer program for a phone, according to the federal indictment unsealed Thursday.
Reaves was known as Hell Rell and Livingston was known as Hell Rell's Queen, federal prosecutors said.
Both face up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and an order to pay back the money they earned illegally if convicted.
Reaves is serving a 15-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter in the shooting of a man at a Marion County convenience store in 2015.
Lawyers for Livingston and Reaves did not respond to emails Friday.
Contraband cellphones in South Carolina prisons have been a long-running problem. Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said inmates have run drug rings, fraud schemes and have even ordered killings from behind bars.
A 2018 riot that killed seven inmates at Lee Correctional Intuition was fueled by cellphones.
"This woman broke the public trust in South Carolina, making our prisons less safe for inmates, staff and the community. We will absolutely not tolerate officers and employees bringing contraband into our prisons, and I'm glad she is being held accountable," Stirling said in a statement.
The South Carolina prison system has implored federal officials to let them jam cellphone signals in prisons but haven't gotten permission.
Recently, they have had success with a device that identifies all cellphones on prison grounds, allowing employees to request mobile phone carriers block the unauthorized numbers, although Stirling's agency hasn't been given enough money to expand it beyond a one-prison pilot program.
In January, Stirling posted a video from a frustrated inmate calling a tech support hotline when his phone no longer worked asking the worker "what can I do to get it turned back on?" and being told he needed to call a Corrections Department hotline.
From July 2022 to June 2023, state prison officials issued 2,179 violations for inmates possessing banned communication devices, and since 2015, more than 35,000 cellphones have been found. The prison system has about 16,000 inmates.
Stirling has pushed for the General Assembly to pass a bill specifying cellphones are illegal in prisons instead of being included in a broad category of contraband and allowing up to an extra year to be tacked on a sentence for having an illegal phone, with up to five years for a second offense.
That bill has not made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.