A "criminal group" of six men – all current or former prisoners – were charged Thursday in a scheme that used bogus court papers to let two convicted murderers walk away from a Florida prison, authorities said.
The six, who include the two escapees, were charged with a combined 37 individual crimes, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey announced in Tallahassee.
Using forged court documents submitted to state authorities, Joseph Jenkins, 34, and Charles Walker, 35, escaped from the Franklin Correctional Institute in Carabelle, Fla. — Jenkins on Sept. 27 and Walker on Oct. 8, authorities said.
Authorities said the documents bore the forged signatures of state judges, assistant state attorneys and a judicial assistant and were filed in the Orange County Clerk of Courts office, then sent to the prison.
Walker and Jenkins were serving life sentences after being convicted of unrelated murders in the late 1990s.
Both men, as required by law, registered as felons at an Orlando jail three days after their release. They were photographed and fingerprinted and then walked free.
They were apprehended in a Panama City hotel room weeks later.
A third Florida convict, Jeffrey Forbes, 30, tried a similar scheme but failed, authorities said. Forbes is serving time for attempted murder of a police officer.
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Jenkins and Forbes, both now in state prison in Raiford, face escape, conspiracy and forgery charges; Walker, also in state prison, is charged with one count of escape.
Among the additional people arrested and facing charges are Nydeed Nashaddai, 48, who Bailey called the "engineer" of the forgery scheme.
Read the forged documents that freed the men (PDF): Walker | Jenkins
Nashaddai allegedly taught and assisted Jenkins and Forbes in earlier failed escape attempts, as well as aiding Jenkins' successful walk to freedom. Jenkins then allegedly forged release documents for Walker.
“They had teachers and teacher-students involved pushing forward this scheme,” Bailey said in an afternoon news briefing.
The others arrested were Willie Slater Jr., 36, now in the Orange County Jail, and Terrance Goodman, 37, of Panama City.
Bailey said Slater, on the outside, ensured the forged documents were delivered to the Orange County clerk's office and Goodman, a friend of Jenkins, drove the two escapees to Panama City and rented a motel room for them.
“(Goodman) was arrested on the street in Panama City this afternoon,” Bailey said.
Authorities say more suspects could arrested in the case.
“There could be other people that we will determine assisted in this fraud," Bailey said. "We’re at six now, there are other leads and other evidence.”
“I don’t know if they would be in what would be called a classical gang, but they're definitely a criminal group," Bailey said.
The two Florida pair are among a number of prisoners who have managed to fake their way out of prison in recent years.