Longform

Raped and extorted by a prison gang, Scott Howard was called a "drama queen" by corrections officials

Page 6 of 9

A week or so after the bathroom blow job, Howard says, Shimbel and another 211 escorted him to a cell after the 10 p.m. head count, supposedly so that he could help a "homie" write a letter and get a discount on his rent. Howard had a pretty good idea what was about to happen but didn't see any way out.

The homie turned out to be Phuong Dang, a member of a Vietnamese gang. Dang began by demanding oral sex, Howard says. After a few minutes he stopped, pulled up his pants, and stepped out of the cell for a moment, asking the 211 lookouts for lotion. He found some, returned,and ordered Howard to bend over a desk and spread his legs. He sodomized him for several minutes, then withdrew.

"Not bad pussy," he said, and left the cell.

Told by Shimbel to get cleaned up, Howard retreated to the bathroom. He sat on a toilet and wept.

His orders for Tennessee arrived three days later. The respite gave him two months to try to figure out what to do. But the gang was busy in his absence, too. When he returned to Sterling, several 211 members surrounded him and showed him a single piece of paper. They figured it would persuade him to get busy raising the big cash needed for the defense fund.

There were two notable things about the document, an intake form from Howard's own file. It had to have come from a staff computer, which meant the Crew had a DOC employee working with them, either for pay or unwittingly. And it contained the names and address of Howard's parents, listed as emergency contacts. Someone was waiting on the outside, one of the group explained, to see if Howard was going to do what was expected of him.

Howard understood. "My family had never done anything to anybody," he says. "To know they could reach out and touch my parents — that was a big move on their part."

Over the next few weeks Howard collected personal data the group had stolen or extorted from sex offenders and other patsies. He even got the names and vitals of death row inmates in Tennessee. He filled out fraudulent W-2 forms until he had a vast array of them, enough to raise $275,000 in tax refunds, to be funneled to a phony tax-preparation company that Howard had created, and ultimately to the 211 Crew. The packet was sitting on his desk, ready to be mailed to an outside confederate, but Howard kept stalling for more time.

On January 3, 2006, two officers conducted a surprise search of Howard's cell. They found the bundle of tax return forms, listing 35 inmates — some of them not even in Colorado. Howard says he didn't tip off the staff himself, but he wishes the raid had been more discreet.

"They sent the gang coordinators," he says. "The minute the 211 guys saw that, they pushed me in a corner and asked, 'Who the fuck have you been talking to?'"

Howard, who has a history of heart trouble, suffered a panic attack that night — the first in a series of convulsive, paralyzing episodes that made him feel like "a mouse in a corner." Exhibiting high blood pressure and tachycardia, he was taken to the hospital for observation and remained there for several days.

During that time, Howard decided to name names and try to get out of Sterling. He met with IRS agents, staff brass and an investigator from the DOC Inspector General's office. He told them the tax scam was supposed to raise money to hire Harvey Steinberg, the prominent Denver criminal attorney, to defend Benjamin Davis. He told them about the extortion. And eventually he told them about the sexual assaults, naming Shimbel and Dang and Hernandez and Griego.

The last bit of information spilled out first in a conversation with a female IRS agent, who asked him what was "really" going on. "I started crying," he recalls. "I told her, 'I've been raped. I've been beaten. You people have no clue what's going on here.'"

Larry Graham, the investigator from the Inspector General's office, was highly skeptical of Howard's claims. He thought it was suspicious that Howard made detailed sexual-assault allegations only after the incriminating tax-fraud materials were found in his cell. Graham first learned of the claims from a draft of the lawsuit Howard soon filed, acting as his own attorney, in a desperate effort to get a judge to order his removal from Sterling. There was no DNA evidence, no contemporaneous outcry, nothing but "ice-cold" accusations that the accused inmates could easily deny, if anyone bothered to ask them.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast