A 59-year-old retired Connecticut school teacher is suing GEO Group Inc., claiming lax security at a prison the Boca Raton-based company runs in Oklahoma allowed inmates to extort nearly $700,000 from him.
In a lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach, Joseph Pappalardo claims inmates responded to a message he posted on an online dating service, looking for men to meet on the phone. After telling one of his phone “dates” that his family didn’t know he was gay, the man threatened to out him if Pappalardo didn’t send him money.
Soon other men, that Pappalardo later learned were housed at Lawton Correctional Facility, made similar threats. Some also warned that they would hurt him and his family if he didn’t send money.
From June 30 to Nov. 1, 2011, Pappalardo sent roughly $668,000 to the inmates, primarily through Green Dot, a prepaid debit card. The cards were sent to mail drops designated by the inmates, said his attorneys Craig Pugatch and Jeffrey Hellman. Pappalardo eventually contacted the U.S. Secret Service, which discovered the men were inmates. The agency is investigating, the attorneys said.
In the lawsuit, Pappalardo claims GEO guards should have known the inmates had prepaid cell phones which are considered contraband in prisons throughout the nation. GEO Group officials declined comment other than to say it refuted the allegations.
In addition to being compensated for the money he lost, Pappalardo is seeking damages for emotional distress. “He lost his life savings,” Pugatch said.