BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. (WKRG) — Jeff Rust and his daughter Harmony Rust Bodtke say they were extorted out of about $24,000 from inmates asking them to cough up money from behind bars. If they didn’t oblige, they say the inmates threatened to beat their son and brother, Ryan, who was in prison with them.

Ryan Rust (Baldwin County Jail Log)

“They had threatened to kill him, his whole back got slashed,” Harmony said.

She and her father think this is largely due to how rampant illicit cellphone use is in Alabama prisons.

“Everybody and their brother in there has a cellphone. They can call anybody outside the prison they want,” Jeff said. He’s calling on the prison system to do better about keeping contraband out.

During the time of the extortion, Ryan was serving his sentence either at Fountain or Holman, both in Atmore, his family says.

The Alabama Department of Corrections sent News 5 a statement saying, in part, “Correctional leaders across country know that the presence of cell phones within correctional facilities is one of the most – if not the most – dangerous threats we face. Our facilities are dilapidated, contain blind spots, and are porous in nature, so we simply cannot always effectively surveille every area of each prison. The introduction of cell phones started years ago and has exacerbated and multiplied the impact of a variety of issues, such as extortion and abuse.”

A spokesperson also says they’ve tried to combat the problem with cellphone-detecting K9’s and more impromptu searches.

Jeff and Harmony continued to pay up, hoping they could endure until the following year, when Ryan would be eligible parole. He was serving time for rape.

“I sent Moneygrams so many times to so many different people that Moneygram blocked me,” Harmony said.

Then came Dec. 21, 2018. “When we got the call that he passed,” Harmony said, through tears. She couldn’t finish her sentence.

The Department of Corrections tells News 5 Ryan’s death was ruled a suicide.

Jeff and Harmony aren’t buying it.

“It was just a couple of hours before that he had my father send him money so that he could get cigarettes and coffee,” Harmony said.

Jeff added, “About eight to nine more months, and he would have been out of there.”