NEW: Investigators look into whether Richard Matt and David Sweat were part of a prison drug trafficking ring
The FBI launches an investigation into possible corruption at the Clinton Correctional Facility
Evidence uncovered during the investigation into the escape of two prisoners sparked the probe
What started as an investigation into how two convicted murderers managed to break out of a maximum-security prison in upstate New York has now sparked an FBI investigation into possible broader corruption and drug trafficking at the facility.
Prison employees have told investigators about heroin use among inmates at the Clinton Correctional Facility, and the role of employees in the drug trade, law enforcement officials briefed on the probe told CNN on Monday.
Investigators have identified specific employees who are now the focus of the investigation, which comes as a result of evidence uncovered during the investigation of the escape of convicted killers Richard Matt and David Sweat, law enforcement and state officials told CNN
Investigators are also examining whether Matt and Sweat were part of the alleged drug trafficking ring, according to law enforcement officials briefed on the investigation.
So far, they’ve uncovered information indicating that Matt and Sweat may have enjoyed greater freedoms inside the prison, even more than other prisoners in the so-called honor block, the officials said.
Among the questions investigators are focusing on: Did the two inmates get those freedoms because of their involvement with some of the alleged illegal activity with other guards?
The escape of Matt and Sweat earlier this month and the arrests of two prison employees charged in connection with the elaborate June 6 breakout highlight a series of apparent security lapses at the maximum-security facility.
The New York State Police and the New York Inspector General have also launched investigations into the jail.
The 23-day manhunt for the murderers ended Sunday with the capture of Sweat. Matt was killed by authorities on Friday.
On Sunday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the investigation into the prison and what happened there was far from over, now that Sweat has been captured.
“Now that we have Mr. Sweat, it gives us the opportunity to have some more questions and provide more facts on the overall situation,” Cuomo said. “Anyone who we find who was culpable and guilty of cooperating in the escape will be fully prosecuted.”
Another focus: Relationships between inmates, guards
Investigators questioned guards at the Clinton Correctional Facility about what conversations they had with the escapees about life outside the prison, a law enforcement official told CNN Sunday.
The seemingly friendly nature between prison guards and inmates is now the focus of the New York Inspector General’s investigation, the official said.
Investigators believe Sweat and Matt were gathering information for almost a year about hunting cabins and the fields around the prison to help them navigate the terrain, according to a person briefed on the investigation.
It is believed the conversations with the guards may have given the escapees some knowledge of how to get around, the official added.
Questions about security lapses
The accusations against prison employees Joyce Mitchell and Gene Palmer raise a number of questions investigators are looking into about security at the facility.
Among them: Were prison guards in the block housing Matt and Sweat asleep during their evening shifts? How was Mitchell allegedly able to smuggle in contraband the prisoners used in their escape? And how common were deals made between convicts and guards?
Matt and Sweat were housed in the prison’s “honor block,” a special section for inmates who’d gone years without significant disciplinary action.
Being in the honor block gave inmates privileges such as going outside every day, having hot plates and refrigerators in their cells, and congregating for hours in a central gallery area each evening with fellow inmates, according to a longtime prison employee.
After the escape, the honor block at Clinton was shut down and turned into a regular cell block, a source with detailed knowledge of the facility told CNN last week.
CNN’s Jethro Mullen, Lorenzo Ferrigno, David Shortell and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.