By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
"Then you have the U.S. Attorney's Office dropping the ball. You had assistant federal prosecutors who knew what was going on yet did nothing. That is troubling."
How Ross ended up in Miami's federal detention center begins in Raleigh, North Carolina. The middle child among three siblings, Ross grew up in a splintered home. "I didn't come from a bad family," she says. "It was just broken."
After her parents separated when she was in elementary school, she lived with her mother in a suburb on the north side of Raleigh during the week and stayed with her dad on weekends. "He lived in the projects," Ross remembers. "That introduced me to a whole new lifestyle."
It didn't help that Ross's father showed no interest in raising his daughter. "The only thing he ever said to me was: 'Wassup, homegirl?'" Ross recalls. By the time she turned 14 years old, she had run away and moved in with her best friend. Not long after, she dropped out of high school and tried her hand at a couple of part-time jobs, including a Winn-Dixie cashier and a Pizza Hut waitress.
She then began dating a drug dealer 15 years her senior, a decision that would alter the course of her life. Both a father figure and a lover, he introduced her to the crack cocaine trade. "From that moment on," Ross says, "I was in the streets all day, every day."
Selling five- and ten-dollar baggies of crack in and around her father's apartment complex, she says she was pocketing $200 to $300 a day. When her best friend was shot down in a drive-by shooting, Ross sunk into a dark depression she couldn't shake, numbing her sadness with booze and weed, but it did nothing to hinder her from selling drugs. In fact, as she puts it, her path got worse: She quit school during the tenth grade in 1988, dated a string of drug dealers, and hopped from one friend's house to the next. Between 1989 and 1992, she was arrested 13 times, on charges ranging from using a fake ID to buy booze to carrying a concealed weapon.
In 1992, at the age of 20, she was found guilty of a felony hit and run and served almost a year in jail. Two years later, she was picked up on a drug trafficking charge and sentenced to seven years. She did two, earned her GED degree, and was released for good behavior.
For a while, it seemed like a fresh start — she landed a job as a receptionist and nail technician trainee at a salon in Raleigh — but before long she started to miss the easy money and the fast lifestyle that came from the game. "I knew I wasn't supposed to be doing it," she says. "But I went back to what I knew."
She hooked up with a mid-level dealer and began dating him and selling crack. In the summer of 1998, Raleigh cops pulled her over and found a half-ounce of crack under the floorboard of the car she was driving. Acting on a tip that Ross had a lot more than that, they sent her to the emergency room to execute a cavity search and removed a plastic bag with 30 grams of crack that Ross had stuffed into her vagina.
On December 7, 1998, Ross pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute 12 ounces of cocaine. Four months later, she was sentenced to 27 years and three months.
"They had essentially given me a life sentence," she says. "I thought I was going to die in prison."
Markell Milsap was an electrician working at a Federal Detention Center in Hawaii in September 2007 when he pushed a female inmate against a wall, forced down her pants, and had sex with the prisoner. He pled guilty to sexually abusing "a person in official detention" and was sentenced to one year in federal lockup. The victim has filed a $750,000 claim for damages against the government and her attacker.
Janine Sligar, a 47-year-old former secretary at the Florence Federal Correctional Complex near Denver — which houses Supermax, a prison building for prisoners who have killed other inmates — pled guilty this past October for "sexual abuse of a ward." A grand jury investigation uncovered Sligar had sex with inmate Eric McClain 10 to 20 times in a staff restroom between July and October 2007. She was recently sentenced to six months in prison and five years of supervised release.
Earlier this month, 39-year-old Michael Rudkin was sentenced to 180 months stemming from his guilty plea in a sex scandal at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dansbury, where Ross spent part of her incarceration. According to court documents, from October 2007 through January 2008, Rudkin engaged in a sexual relationship with a female inmate and planned with the prisoner to kill his wife. Investigators foiled the plot. Rudkin was sentenced to 10 years for the murder-for-hire charge and another 14 years for the sexual abuse of an inmate.
These are not isolated incidents. Sexual misconduct by federal prison employees is a problem across the country, according to a 2005 report by the U.S. Department of Justice. Between 2000 and 2004, the DOJ's Office of the Inspector General investigated 351 BOP employees accused of sexually abusing inmates. Roughly half of those cases were presented for prosecution.