South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced today that Nicanor Rodriguez and Anthony Gracely pleaded guilty to State Grand Jury charges in connection to a drug trafficking organization that they founded and operated from September 2013 to May of 2021. This drug trafficking organization largely operated out of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC), where both defendants were incarcerated inmates and were able to operate largely utilizing contraband items, namely cellular phones from within SCDC.
“This case highlights the dangers of illegal cell phones inside our prisons. Inmates used contraband phones to run a drug empire but also to kidnap a pregnant 18-year-old, which was planned by the inmates, ordered by phone, and carried out by people outside the prison,” Attorney General Wilson said.
“Illegal cellphones allowed these men to continue their criminal enterprises while in prison,” said Bryan Stirling, Director of the S.C. Department of Corrections. “They have ruined countless lives with their continued drug dealings. I’m grateful they will be kept behind bars for a significant number of years, and I hope one day we will have the necessary legislation to allow state prisons to jam illegal cellphone signals.”
The State Grand Jury has issued indictments in two separate investigations (“Prison Empire” and “Graceland”) targeting this now-inoperable drug trafficking organization, with combined totals of over 100 defendants, over 500 charges, and spanning numerous counties.
Nicanor Rodriguez, the founder, supplier, and leader of this drug trafficking organization pleaded guilty to the following charges:
- 2017-GS-47-14 (Count 1) – Trafficking Methamphetamine, 400 grams or more (Conspiracy) (Greenville County)
- 2017-GS-47-52 (Count 1) – Trafficking Methamphetamine, 400 grams or more (Conspiracy) (Greenville County)
- 2019-GS-47-17 (Count 1) – Criminal Conspiracy (Edgefield County)
- 2019-GS-47-17 (Count 3) – Kidnapping (Edgefield County)
- 2019-GS-47-20 (Count 1) – Trafficking Cocaine, 400 grams or more (Conspiracy) (Greenville County)
- 2019-GS-47-21 (Count 1) – Trafficking Methamphetamine, 200-400 grams (Lexington County)
- 2019-GS-47-23 (Count 1) – Trafficking Methamphetamine, 400 grams or more (Conspiracy) (Pickens County)
- 2020-GS-47-28 (Count 1) – Trafficking Heroin, 28 grams or more (Conspiracy) (Greenville County)
Nicanor Rodriguez is currently incarcerated with SCDC until 2041 for prior drug convictions, stemming from a previous State Grand Jury investigation and a 2007 trial. On March 4, 2022, the Honorable R. Lawton McIntosh sentenced Nicanor Rodriguez to an additional 40 years for the charges above-referenced, which will be added to his existing sentence.
Anthony Gracely, Rodriguez’s key co-conspirator within the prison system and primary contact for conspirators outside of the prison system, pleaded guilty to four counts of Trafficking Methamphetamine and one count of Trafficking Heroin. Gracely will be sentenced at a future date.
This investigation has seized approximately 20 kilograms of methamphetamine, 5 kilos of heroin, and 1.5 kilograms of cocaine, as well as 82 firearms, attributable to Nicanor Rodriguez’s drug trafficking organization. The investigation has revealed the conspiracy has historically accounted for over 1000 kilograms of methamphetamine and heroin trafficked throughout the State of South Carolina. Rodriguez and Gracely were SCDC inmates and housed in proximity to each other at the Lee Correctional Institution. They coordinated the supply and distribution of illegal narcotics, and the collection of the proceeds, through the use of contraband cell phones smuggled into SCDC. Rodriguez is the source of supply for Anthony Gracely, using said contraband cell phones to contact sources of supply from Mexico, Georgia, and Texas. Rodriguez and Gracely conspired to establish not only sources of supply for the various illegal narcotics but to also develop an integrated distribution network throughout South Carolina. Rodriguez was responsible for trafficking the illegal narcotics into South Carolina and arranging for the delivery of said narcotics to Gracely’s associates outside of the prison system. Gracely was then responsible for establishing the distribution network throughout South Carolina.
During the plea, Rodriguez admitted and pleaded guilty to ordering two other co-defendants and alleged co-conspirators to kidnap the 18-year-old pregnant daughter of another alleged co-conspirator who owed Rodriguez a drug debt. This is alleged to have occurred on September 23, 2018, in Edgefield County.
The case was investigated by the South Carolina State Grand Jury, which was assisted in this case by a partnership of the Attorney General’s State Grand Jury Division, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the South Carolina Department of Corrections’ Division of Police Services, the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office, the Greenville County Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit, the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office, the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office, the Edgefield County Sheriff’s Office, the Lexington County Sheriff’s Office, the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office, the Easley Police Department, the Liberty Police Department, the Pickens Police Department, and the South Carolina Governor’s Counterdrug Task Force (a unit of the South Carolina National Guard). The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Savanna Goude, Assistant Deputy Attorney General David A. Fernandez, and State Grand Jury Division Chief Attorney S. Creighton Waters.
Attorney General Wilson stressed that all other defendants are presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty in a court of law.