Former Chief of Prisons in Mississippi, Is Arraigned On Corruption Charges

mississippicorruptionFrom New York Times

Christopher B. Epps, a former state corrections commissioner in Mississippi, was arraigned in federal court on Thursday on charges of participating in a corruption scheme in which he received nearly a million dollars from a contractor who paid off Mr. Epps’s home mortgage and helped him buy a beach condominium.

A 49-count federal indictment unsealed Thursday documents a complex conspiracy dating to 2007 in which Mr. Epps is accused of receiving dozens of bribes totaling as much as $900,000 in exchange for directing lucrative state prison contracts to firms connected to Cecil McCrory, a local businessman and former state legislator. Both men pleaded not guilty Thursday before a federal magistrate in Jackson, Miss.

The indictment says that Mr. McCrory operated several companies that had contracts with the state, including for prison administration, commissary services and evaluating Medicaid eligibility across the state prison system.

Mr. Epps, 53, had been Mississippi’s longest-serving corrections commissioner until he resigned Wednesday. He had been president of both the Association of State Correctional Administrators and the American Correctional Association until his resignation.

A lawyer for Mr. Epps did not return phone and email messages. Mr. McCrory did not return a phone message; it was not clear if he had hired a lawyer.

Mr. McCrory resigned as president of the Rankin County School Board on Wednesday within hours of Mr. Epps’s resignation.

In addition to owning companies with state prison contracts, Mr. McCrory was a paid consultant to firms seeking such deals in Mississippi, including the Management & Training Corporation, a private company based in Utah that operates the East Mississippi Correctional Facility in Lauderdale County, Miss. A company spokesman said Mr. McCrory was hired as a consultant in 2012, but the company was not aware “of any alleged inappropriate relationships between Mr. Epps and Mr. McCrory or that Mr. Epps was allegedly a participant in any way in the contract.”

According to a lawsuit filed in Mississippi Federal District Court last year by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center, the prison is “an extremely dangerous facility operating in a perpetual state of crisis.”

According to the indictment, around the time that Mr. Epps signed a contract with the Management & Training Corporation to run the prison in August 2012, Mr. McCrory — the company’s consultant — wired $34,000 to Wells Fargo Home Mortgage as a payment on a condominium Mr. Epps had recently bought in Biloxi, Miss.

Mr. Epps, according to the indictment, had suggested that Management & Training Corporation hire Mr. McCrory as a consultant, and had also negotiated Mr. McCrory’s fee.

“I got us $12,000 per month,” Mr. Epps told Mr. McCrory, according to the indictment. Prosecutors say the two men split the money after calculating how much tax Mr. McCrory would have to pay on the fee.

Mr. Epps eventually signed a number of contracts with the management corporation to provide various prison services, including a no-bid contract in October 2012 — just weeks after Mr. McCrory paid another $14,000 on Mr. Epps’s condominium, the indictment said.

Mr. McCrory’s initial payment to Mr. Epps, according to prosecutors, was in 2007, after Mr. Epps had awarded a no-bid contract to G. T. Enterprises, a firm owned by Mr. McCrory, to supply commissary services to the prison system.

Mr. McCrory went on to pay Mr. Epps $3,000 to $4,000 15 different times, and Mr. McCrory later sold the commissary business at a substantial profit, prosecutors said.

The next year, at Mr. Epps’s request, Mr. McCrory began paying off the mortgage on Mr. Epps’s house in Flowood, Miss., eventually making payments of more than $350,000, prosecutors said.

Mr. Epps later bought a larger beach condominium in Pass Christian, Miss., the indictment said.

Prosecutors said the authorities had moved to seize Mr. Epps’s house, condominium, bank accounts and two Mercedes-Benz automobiles.