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Contraband investigation leads to arrest

John Willoughby

The Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) announced on Wednesday, Nov. 6, the arrest of a former Madison correctional officer, who is facing multiple charges including conspiracy to introduce contraband and unlawful compensation following a contraband introduction investigation that dates back to the beginning of 2019.

Christopher Joshua Cooks, 23, of Madison, turned himself into the Madison County Jail on Sunday, Nov. 3, prior to his same-day release on bond. Cooks was charged with unlawful compensation, disclosure or use of confidential criminal justice information, unlawful use of a two-way communication device, conspiracy to introduce contraband – controlled substance, compounding felony and tampering with evidence. Each charge held a $10,000 bail bond.

According to an official affidavit for arrest published by the FDC, senior inspector Jared Dewey began a criminal investigation on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019, into an introduction of contraband case. The affidavit states that on or about Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, sworn FDC correctional officer [assigned to Madison Correctional Institution (MCI)] Joseph Robert Eldridge became the subject of investigation.

During a search of Eldridge's vehicle at MCI, investigators discovered 17.10 grams of MDMA (otherwise known as 'Molly'), three cellular phones and 300 grams of tobacco. The affidavit states that the items were packaged indicative of introduction into a correctional facility.

The affidavit continues to report that Eldridge and Cooks used cellular phones to orchestrate, plan and/or execute the introduction of contraband into MCI. Inspector Dewey states that Eldridge installed applications onto his phone to finalize proceeds received from the contraband introduction. "Those proceeds were used to further the criminal enterprise of Eldridge and others involved, namely Cooks," the affidavit adds.

The proceeds were transferred to a CashApp account used by another individual, from which the proceeds were then transferred from the CashApp account to an account belonging to Eldridge at Panhandle Educators Federal Credit Union. It is noted that Eldridge estimated that he and Cooks had each received approximately $15,000 since November of 2018 from the introduction of contraband into MCI.

"Eldridge and Cooks met a family member of an inmate incarcerated at MCI to pick up narcotics, namely two ounces of MDMA, better known as 'Molly', which was later introduced into MCI," the affidavit states. "Eldridge indicated Cooks received compensation for the introduction of contraband into MCI."

The investigation continued through a search warrant, which was issued for Eldridge's phone, "based on his statement," the affidavit reads. The search revealed text messages that had been sent to and received by a phone number, which was redacted from the affidavit, but was detailed to be Cooks' personal cellular phone number.

The affidavit states that some of the text messages indicated calling individuals who were later identified as inmates incarcerated at MCI; various photographs exchanged between Eldridge and Cooks consisting of large amounts of green leafy substances, which was identified as marijuana by Inspector Dewey; Cooks asking Eldridge to "make packs" or package cigarettes for introduction into MCI; Cooks entering MCI and alerting Eldridge to the presence of drug detection canines by texting "10-4" and "Ok," thereby allowing the introduction of contraband into MCI and circumventing the interdiction procedures of the drug detection canines; and arranging a pick-up of drugs from the brother of an inmate incarcerated at MCI.

During a post-Miranda interview with Cooks, Inspector Dewey states that he "denied introducing any controlled substances into MCI; however, he 'had a feeling' Eldridge was in fact introducing controlled substances into MCI."

"A data extraction was completed on Cooks' personal cellular phone and his assigned, state-issued cellular phone, however, there was no corroborating evidence discovered, even though Eldridge's cellular phones contained corroborating evidence (conversations between Eldridge and Cooks), indicating Cooks' participating in the criminal activity," the affidavit states.

It was added that Cooks' CashApp and bank records did not provide any evidence pertinent to the case.

According to the FDC, Cooks began his tenure with MCI in May of 2015. He is no longer employed with the institution after resigning in February of 2019.

The status of Eldridge's case is unknown, based on information provided in the affidavit. Greene Publishing, Inc. reached out to the State Attorney's Office for information. As of press time, however, no further information has been obtained.

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