Disney-character coloring books arriving at the Cape May County Correctional Center and addressed “To Daddy” in a child’s handwriting were saturated with a narcotic drug as part of a smuggling operation, authorities said Monday.

Two inmates at the correctional center, a state prison inmate and two others were charged with distribution of a controlled substance after they allegedly turned Suboxone, a prescription drug designed to treat opioid addiction, into a paste. The paste was then painted onto children’s pictures and sent through inmate mail, Cape May County Sheriff Gary Schaffer said Monday.

“In my 38 years of law enforcement, I’ve never seen anything like this,” Schaffer said. The sheriff said he has alerted other jail wardens and county sheriffs about the operation in case it is tried again.

The arrests were the result of a two-month investigation that began when Corrections Officer Richard Harron Jr. developed a source who alerted him to the smuggling. As a result, corrections officers began watching the mail for the contraband, Shaffer said.

By February, an officer in the mailroom, William Coombs Sr., had found coloring book pages with what he called “an orangey substance blotted on the page.”

The alleged drug smugglers used torn-out pages of children’s coloring books, colored by a child’s hand and with the words “To Daddy” scribbled across the top, to obscure the presence of the drug. Three pages, two of them of Disney scenes depicting Snow White and Cinderella, were among those seized.

Schaffer said the pages were sent to the county Prosecutor’s Office drug lab for testing, and the speedy turnaround of the evidence allowed for the arrests.

Inmates Zachary Hirsch and Charles Markham, and Paul Scipione, a former inmate recently transferred from the jail, were each charged with conspiracy and attempt to commit a crime.

Hirsch’s bail was set at $50,000. Bail for Markham and Scipione was set at $15,000 each.

Hirsch also is charged with failure to appear for a charge of unlawful possession of a weapon. Markham is charged with failure to appear for a charge of possession of a controlled dangerous substance. The two men entered the jail within a day of each other — Markham on Jan. 19 and Hirsch on Jan. 20 — online jail records show.

Scipione, 24, was transferred from the county jail to state prison March 2 on drug distribution charges. He is serving a four-year sentence, the state Department of Corrections website states.

Additionally, Debbie Longo, of West Wildwood, was charged with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance and intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance in a school zone. Her bail was set at $25,000.

Police are still searching for Katelyn Mosebach, of Trevose, Pa., who is charged with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance and intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance in a school zone.

Staff Writer W.F. Keough contributed to this report.

 

Contact Caitlin Dineen:

609-463-6710