- Two rewards of up to $10,000 are offered in forgeries of court papers
- The seven instances of alleged forgery involve six inmates
- Fake papers like those that freed two Florida convicts go for $8,000, state official says
- They've become a "cottage industry" that has led to several escape attempts, he says
Bogus court papers that allowed two convicted murderers to walk out of a Florida prison
are part of a "cottage industry" that enabled one other jailbreak and several more attempts, the state's police chief said Monday.
"We know today of five other instances" in which Florida convicts used forged documents in an attempt to shave some time off their sentences, said Jerry Bailey, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The seven instances of alleged forgery involve six inmates because one inmate was allegedly involved in two forgeries, authorities said Tuesday.
Also Tuesday, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved in the forgeries or inmates' escapes.
And the Florida attorney general's office is offering another reward of up to $10,000.
State officials have been investigating the scam for about a year and had warned prosecutors about the schemes over the summer, Bailey said.
"We have a confidential source that has advised us that there was a cottage industry, if you will," he said. "An individual was able to construct these documents for $8,000."
Authorities say Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins, who were recaptured Saturday night, used a fraudulent order from a judge to get out of the prison in the Panhandle where they were serving life terms. In the past two years, three other inmates in that prison and one at another lockup have made similar attempts to get themselves released, Bailey said.
One of those inmates, Jeffrey Forbes, now faces trial on forgery and attempted escape charges, Orange County State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton said. Forbes had been convicted of attempting to kill a law enforcement officer and had been sentenced to life in prison, Ashton said in a written statement last week.
"It is now clear that the use of forged court documents to obtain release from prison is an ongoing threat which all law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, court clerks and prison officials must address and stop," he said.
An inmate held on stolen-check charges in St. Petersburg used fake papers to get out for about 24 hours in 2009 before being recaptured, Pinellas County prosecutors said.
Walker and Jenkins were taken into custody Saturday evening
in Panama City, where they were waiting for a ride to arrive from Atlanta. Bailey said they are not cooperating with the inquiry, and investigators are tracking their forged paperwork "to try to determine who initiated the fraud and who along the way may have harbored these fugitives."
The investigation includes the use of DNA tests on the documents in hopes of trying to figure out who produced them, he said. He said investigators have identified suspects but aren't prepared to make arrests.
Walker and Jenkins are both 34 and had been serving life terms without parole for unrelated killings. Jenkins left the prison in North Carrabelle, south of Tallahassee, on September 27, and Walker left on October 8, according to authorities.
A tip from an acquaintance of one of them led to their arrests at a Panama City motel, Bailey said.
The legal-looking documents the men used contained bogus reproductions
of several key players' signatures, including those of Ashton or the assistant state attorney and Belvin Perry, the chief judge for Florida's 9th Judicial Circuit, which includes Orange and Osceola counties. They bore the seal of the Orange County clerk of court's office.
"They are excellent fakes," Perry said.
The judge said his signature is easy to find online on documents related to the high-profile trial of Casey Anthony. Anthony was acquitted in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee.
"People, particularly people with criminal minds, come up with ingenious ways to beat the system," Perry said. "They have nothing but time on their hands to think of things."
In an order issued Monday, Perry laid out new rules for county clerks in his circuit to keep fake orders from getting real inmates released, requiring them to confirm an order in writing with the judge's office.
And Mike Crews, the head of Florida's Department of Corrections, said he has ordered prison officials to check with the judge to make sure a release order is legitimate.