CRAWFORD COUNTY, Pa. -- Seven people face criminal charges after using greeting cards to smuggle prescription drugs into a Pennsylvania jail this spring, according to investigators.

The state Office of Attorney General’s Bureau of Narcotics launched an investigation in early March after staff at the Crawford County jail in northwest Pennsylvania noticed suspicious activity involving greeting cards, according to Attorney General Kathleen Kane. Prison staff reported the suspicious activity immediately and provided key information throughout the investigation, according to Kane.

Since then, multiple charges have been filed against three women and four men in connection with alleged illegal use of the drug Suboxone, a drug commonly used to treat narcotic addiction.

Facing multiple counts each are: Vanessa Stahlman, 39; Yvonne King, 30; Steven Tilford, 30; Martin Calzada, 30; Tyler Beers, 22; Jessica Hess, 27 and John Vanderhoof, 26.

The investigation began March 9 after prison staff noticed a suspicious holiday greeting card was sent to Beers, who was incarcerated at the time. Investigators found the card had strips of Suboxone tucked inside and had been resealed. Upon interviewing prison staff, agents learned that another inmate, Tilford, was suspected to have been using Suboxone while incarcerated.

The greeting card was made of thick paper and one of its edges was slit open to put Suboxone inside, Crawford County District Attorney Francis Schultz said. Suboxone comes in a dissolvable strip form and is taken orally by placing it under the tongue, Schultz said.

Schultz, who will prosecute the case, also serves as the chairman of the county's prison board.

"The staff noticed something was wrong with the card and reported it," Schultz said of how the investigation began. "The investigation started and backtracked its way. These were individuals on the outside who had boyfriends at the jail."

The suspicious greeting card was discovered during staff inspection of inmate mail, according to Tim Lewis, the jail’s warden.

"It’s opened and shaken, but not read, and checked for contraband before it’s sent on to the inmate," Lewis said of how jail staff handles inmate mail.

A review of the suspects’ mail records and phone calls found they were receiving mail from people with fictitious names, investigators allege. The investigation found Tilford’s girlfriend, Stahlman, had obtained Suboxone and allegedly mailed it into the jail, using Beers as the recipient.

Stahlman allegedly received Suboxone from Hess and King, who had obtained it illegally from different sources, according to investigators. Investigators allege that the boyfriends of Hess and King, who were Vanderhoof and Calzada, also assisted in getting Suboxone and mailing it into the jail.

Each of the suspects is scheduled to have preliminary hearings on the charges against them on May 28.

Gushard writes for the Meadville (Pa.) Tribune.

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