A Lexington County jury has found Ronald Joseph Bonnette, age 47, guilty of three crimes related to his former duties as a contractual work release supervisor for prison inmates. Following a trial, Bonnette was found guilty of Aiding a Prisoner in Escape, Providing Contraband to a Prisoner, and Criminal Conspiracy. Circuit Court Judge Donald B. Hocker sentenced Bonnette to a period of 18 months incarceration.
Eleventh Circuit Solicitor Rick Hubbard stated, “The South Carolina Department of Corrections work release program depends on trustworthy people monitoring the inmates. People like Bonnette have no business being involved in this important program.” Hubbard further commented, “We hope by prosecuting Bonnette, we will send a message to everyone involved in the program and preserve its integrity.”
The prison work release program is designed to provide low-risk, non-violent, “short-timer” inmates with gainful employment. Trained and qualified inmates work outside the prison during the day, at job sites from which they cannot leave, while under the watchful eye of trained civilian supervisors. They return to their prison in the evening. The program helps participating inmates meet child support, victim restitution, and other financial responsibilities while easing their transition back into society as productive citizens.
Bonnette worked for a private company, U.S. Lawns in Richland County, that contracted with the South Carolina Department of Corrections to provide landscaping services to numerous local businesses and governmental entities. In 2015, Bonnette was a work release supervisor responsible for inmates. Bonnette allowed one particular inmate to leave his work release job site and visit a private residence where illegal narcotics, including methamphetamine, were provided to both Bonnette and the inmate. Bonnette also allowed an acquaintance of the inmate to visit various job sites in which illegal drugs and contraband were provided.
An anonymous tip to the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department led Detective Shannon Dykes to investigate the allegations. An immediate drug test administered by the Department of Corrections confirmed that the inmate was positive for illegal narcotics. During the investigation, the inmate admitted to authorities that he visited various drug houses and was provided drugs at several work sites with Bonnette’s knowledge and complicity. Detective Dykes validated the inmate’s confession with statements from other participants in the crime. Law enforcement obtained GPS data from the work truck assigned to Bonnette and the inmate which further verified the statements.
Senior Assistant Solicitor Robert Elam and Assistant Solicitor LeAnna McMenamin prosecuted the case for the Eleventh Circuit Solicitor’s Office.