Photo: AP

Ride-hailing startups are looking into everything from autonomous cars to flying cars these days, but here’s one thing they haven’t thought of yet (at least publicly): a pay car service that runs escaped prisoners to hotels and fine eateries.

A federal prisoner and his fiancee ran a “taxi service” for inmates who escaped from a penitentiary in Atlanta in return for a fee, the U.S. justice department said Thursday, in what one attorney for the government dubbed “inmate Uber,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

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The Justice Department said on Thursday that the couple has been indicted on conspiratorial and substantive escapee charges.

According to the indictment, Deldrick Jackson—an inmate at the U.S. penitentiary in Atlanta—helped arrange trips to restaurants and hotels for inmates who’d escape the prison.

Jackson’s fiancee, Kelly Bass, received approximately $4,000 for carting the prisoners to restaurants and hotels, the indictment says. Jackson had been lodged at the prison since 2010 for drug and money laundering convictions.

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The scheme was apparently quite intricate, according to a criminal complaint filed last month by an investigator:

For example, video surveillance footage shows that: (a) on January 28, 2017, at approximately 10:32 p.m., several individuals ran from the prison camp area towards USP Atlanta’s perimeter fence; (b) at approximately 10:42 p.m., a silver SUV arrived in the area and three individuals entered the SUV and departed; and (c) at approximately 2:10 a.m. on January 29, 2017, three individuals got out of the silver SUV and ran towards the USP Atlanta perimeter fence.

Additionally, video surveillance footage from a hotel near USP Atlanta showed that at approximately 10:52 p.m., on January 28, 2017, a silver SUV bearing license plate number PRZ1697 (a vehicle registered to Bass) arrived in the hotel’s parking lot and left at approximately 2:04 a.m. on January 29, 2017.

The scheme fell apart on April 13, according to the complaint, when police stopped a silver Acura driven by Bass. Inside, authorities found Jackson, who an investigator later confirmed had no permission to leave the penitentiary that day.

“Ms. Bass has been going to the prison for months and running what can be described as an inmate Uber,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Davis told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last month when the arrests were made. The newspaper reported that Bass was released on a $15,000 unsecured bond.

The taxi service doesn’t seem as surprising when you consider the environment at the penitentiary in Atlanta. Here’s the Journal-Constitution:

Earlier this year, the FBI and Atlanta police arrested inmate Thomas Stinson after he slipped through a hole cut in the fence to fetch a bag containing a cellphone, scissors, nail clippers, two bottles of tequila, two cartons of cigarettes, four boxes of cigars, and various food items, all banned inside the prison.

With his arrest, the public learned of a bizarre yet “sophisticated operation” involving teams of inmates who would leave the prison and return with no fear of being caught. They would reportedly sell to other convicts, at inflated prices, the items they brought back — beer, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and takeout food from nearby restaurants.

One inmate — who requested anonymity because of fear of retribution from prisoners and guards — told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution there is a party in the living areas almost nightly. Inmates drink, use drugs and barbecue without being caught because there are only a couple of guards supervising 500 inmates spread over eight buildings.

The inmate told the AJC this week that while searches of the living spaces had increased after Stinson’s arrest in January, inmates’ nightly trips through or over perimeter fences continued. He said prison officials caught two inmates trying to leave a few weeks ago, but they were replaced that same night by others willing to leave the grounds and return with alcohol, drugs and other banned items.

Bass was scheduled to appear in court Thursday morning. She was released last month on a $15,000 unsecured bond.

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