By Steve Wilson / November 6, 2014 / Mississippi Watchdog
A multi-year investigation by state and federal authorities has revealed an alleged bribery scheme that cost the state of Mississippi thousands of dollars in prison services contracts.
Former State Corrections commissioner Chris Epps and former Rankin County School Board president Cecil McCrory were arraigned on a 49-count federal indictment Thursday in Jackson, Miss.
Both entered not guilty pleas to the charges that included wire fraud, conspiracy, bribery and money-laundering conspiracy, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, and were released on $25,000 bail. Epps faces six counts of tax evasion, accused of failing to report income from the bribes. A trial date has been set for Jan. 5.
The indictment accuses Epps of receiving kickbacks and bribes to steer corrections contracts worth nearly half a billion dollars in contracts, leases or work to companies owned by McCrory, a former state legislator, starting in 2007. Those contracts defrauded the state of thousands of dollars. The companies provided telephone and commissary services to state prisons. The indictment had been sealed since August.
Both Epps and McCrory resigned their respective positions this week, before the indictments were handed down.
The federal government is seeking forfeiture of Epps’ $359,000 Flowood home, a beachfront condominium in Pass Christian, money in six bank accounts and two Mercedes Benz cars.
The indictment alleges that McCrory:
- Paid off the remainder Epps’ mortgage, worth $350,000 with several payments to the mortgage holder, Countrywide Bank
- Paid for Epps’ condo in Pass Christian ($200,000)
- Paid for Epp’s condo in Biloxi ($257,000)
- Paid Epps more than $40,000 for a “consignment of farm equipment” into an investment account owned by Epps
According to the indictment, Epps allegedly skirted IRS reporting rules on bank deposits of more than $10,000 by depositing less than that amount on 14 different occasions at several different banks between 2009 and 2013 after keeping the money in his home safe.
A 2011 report issued by the Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review detailed several problems with the no-bid contract given to G T Enterprises, which McCrory owned.
Other companies owned by McCrory that did business with the Mississippi Department of Corrections mentioned in the indictment included Correctional Communications, College Street Leasing and American Transition Services. McCrory was also paid consulting fees — which, according to the indictment, he allegedly kicked back to Epps — for companies seeking contracts with MDOC. Those companies included: Cornell Corrections, The GEO Group, Management and Training Corporation, Centric Group, Keefe Commissary Network, Adminpros, Wexford Health Services, Brantry Group and Branan Medical.
Epps, 53 started his career with the Department of Corrections in 1982 as a corrections officer at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman and had been the state’s longest serving corrections commissioner. He was appointed by then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove in 2002.