How These Jail Officials Profit From Selling E-Cigarettes to Inmates

Cash-strapped Kentucky jails made more than $1.3 million in 2018, overlooking health concerns.

How These Jail Officials Profit From Selling E-Cigarettes to Inmates

A Kentucky river city once rich in tobacco was grappling with growing concerns about the health risks of electronic cigarettes.

The former governor had already banned e-cigarettes in some state buildings, and lawmakers had prohibited selling them to anyone younger than 18.

So, in May 2017, city leaders in Henderson decided to add vaping to a more than decade-old ban on smoking in local government buildings and other public places.

The prohibition meant a loss of revenue for the Henderson County Detention Center, which purchased e-cigarettes and then resold them to inmates at triple or quadruple the wholesale price.

It also threatened a steady stream of business for the jail’s supplier, CrossBar Electronic Cigarettes. That posed a problem for Jamie Mosley, a jailer across the state who runs the Laurel County Correctional Center.

Mosley invented the e-cigarettes sold at the jail, and his wife, Kristie Mosley, is listed in state records as an owner of the company.

Less than two months after the ban was enacted, Mosley drove 250 miles to the western Kentucky city along the Ohio River to join the county’s jailer in seeking an exemption for the jail. Mosley said the e-cigarettes he developed were safer than competing products because they couldn’t be fashioned into weapons. He also used his jail as an example, saying e-cigarettes improved morale and curbed fighting.

In the end, the Henderson jail was allowed to keep the revenue driver, which brought nearly $150,000 in profits the previous year, and CrossBar remained its e-cigarette supplier.

Mosley is one of at least four elected Kentucky jailers who have capitalized on the e-cigarette boom, either by forming companies that sell vaping products to inmates in other jails or by handing lucrative business in their own facilities to friends and family, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica have found. He and other jailers also have successfully fought the few proposed health measures that would have put such business in peril.

The stakes are high for CrossBar. A 2018 article from Vice News, which featured Mosley, estimated that the company would make $3.5 million in e-cigarette sales that year. Mosley declined to confirm the figure or give updated sales numbers, but records provided by 12 Kentucky jails show more than $356,000 in payments to the company in 2018.

Many cash-strapped jails prop up their budgets by purchasing e-cigarettes from suppliers and reselling them to inmates.