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Drug Enforcement Administration


Robert J. Murphy, Jr., Special Agent in Charge

February 12, 2020

Contact: Chuvalo Truesdell

Phone Number: (571) 362-3517

Two South Carolina Department of Corrections inmates sentenced to decades in federal prison for roles in separate drug trafficking rings

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Acting United States Attorney A. Lance Crick announced today that Glenn Quanta Pernell, 41, and Joseph Umphlett, Sr., 39, both inmates in the South Carolina Department of Corrections, have been sentenced in federal court for their roles in separate major drug trafficking rings run from inside prison walls using contraband cell phones.

“DEA is fully committed to tirelessly pursuing criminals who sell drugs, whether they’re selling them on the streets or inside a prison,” said DEA Atlanta Division Special Agent in Charge Robert J. Murphy. “This criminal was already serving time in prison for drug trafficking. He continued to sell methamphetamine and heroin while incarcerated. His criminal activity landed him even more deserving time in prison. The spirited level of law enforcement cooperation and the subsequent prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office made this investigation a success.”

“Because of uncontrolled access to contraband cell phones, inmates already serving lengthy state sentences for serious drug convictions were able to continue bringing deadly, addictive drugs into our communities,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Crick. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is proud to lock arms with the Department of Corrections and our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to protect both the general public and the prison population from the public safety threat caused by contraband phones.”  

“These inmates were able to commit crimes while behind bars because of contraband cell phones,” said Director of the S.C. Department of Corrections Bryan Stirling. “I am grateful to the U.S. Attorney’s office and our law enforcement partners for bringing these men to justice.”

Glenn Quanta Pernell was sentenced to life in federal prison after jury convicted him of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute cocaine, cocaine base, and heroin, in addition to several other drug-related charges. During an 8-day trial in August 2019, the jury heard hours of recorded conversations between Pernell and his coconspirators. According to the evidence at trial, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Columbia Violent Gang Task Force began investigating several Columbia-based drug dealers in 2016. Wiretaps on their phones revealed that the dealers were being supplied cocaine and heroin from an organization in Marion County.

The leader of that organization was Pernell, an inmate serving two 25-year consecutive state sentences for drug trafficking. Pernell employed a network of people, including his mother, Hattie Pernell, and his sister, Whitney Pernell, to purchase drugs from his Mexican drug suppliers, to deliver drugs to his customers, and to collect and store drug proceeds from the sales. Pernell ran his operation from within prison walls at Lieber Correctional Institution, using contraband cell phones to direct and oversee the daily operations of the organization. 

“Today's sentencing is the culmination of a comprehensive and coordinated drug trafficking investigation by the FBI and our dedicated partners,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Jody Norris. “These law enforcement professionals proved again drug trafficking enterprises operating anywhere in South Carolina will be met with a committed cadre of agents, officers, and deputies that will dismantle the trafficking network and bring those behind it to account.” 

This case was investigated by the FBI’s CVGTF, which is comprised of law enforcement officers from the FBI, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the Columbia Police Department, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department, the Lexington Police Department, the Marion County Sheriff’s Department, the Mullins Police Department, and the South Carolina National Guard, with assistance from the South Carolina Department of Corrections and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Assistant United States Attorneys Jane B. Taylor, Benjamin N. Garner, and Christopher D. Taylor of the Columbia office prosecuted the case.

Joseph Umphlett, Sr., was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute heroin and methamphetamine. His federal sentence will be served consecutive to a separate life sentence he is serving in SCDC.   

Evidence presented in the case established that on October 1, 2015, Umphlett was sentenced in Berkeley County General Sessions Court to life without parole for trafficking methamphetamine, his third serious drug conviction in state court. While serving his life sentence in Lieber Correctional Institution, Umphlett began using contraband cell phones to lead a drug trafficking organization responsible for distributing large quantities of heroin and methamphetamine throughout Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester Counties. During the course of the investigation, law enforcement seized over five kilograms of methamphetamine and over three kilograms of heroin. Umphlett was indicted along with 11 co-defendants, including his mother, Valerie Collins. Collins was previously sentenced to 100 months in federal prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, for her role in the conspiracy.  

The case was investigated by agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the South Carolina Department of Corrections, the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office, the Summerville Police Department, the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office, and the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Nick Bianchi of the Charleston office prosecuted the case.

The DEA encourages parents, along with their children, to educate themselves about the dangers of legal and illegal drugs by visiting DEA’s interactive websites at www.justhinktwice.com, www.GetSmartAboutDrugs.com, and www.dea.gov. Also follow DEA Atlanta via Twitter at @DEAATLANTADiv. 


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