A 49-count federal indictment unsealed on Thursday charges the head of prisons in Mississippi, Christopher Epps, with orchestrating a massive corruption scheme where he pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from private prison companies in return for contracts to work in the Mississippi prison system.
Epps, who had served as Mississippi Corrections Commissioner since 2002, is accused of pilfering more than $700,000 since 2008. How allegedly rotten was Epps’ tenure? Here’s how Mississippi’s the Clarion-Ledger described the Shawshank-like operation: “The head of Mississippi's prison system was raking in so much in bribes that he had to launder the money through his home mortgage and a beachfront condo, at one point even driving all over town making $9,000 cash deposits to avoid scrutiny larger amounts of cash would garner, according to a federal indictment.”
Epps is accused of getting kickbacks on sweetheart deals for prison contracts with local businessman Cecil McCrory acting as the middleman. “MDOC [Mississippi Dept. of Corrections] spends hundreds of millions of tax dollars a year in contracts, including more than $371 million for fiscal 2014,” according to the Clarion-Ledger.
Here’s more from the Clarion-Ledger on how the duo orchestrated the scam:
Prosecutors say McCrory, who owned companies doing business with MDOC, paid kickbacks to Epps in exchange for contracts to companies owned by McCrory, or companies who paid McCrory as a consultant. McCrory allegedly secretly paid Epps in cash or checks to banks that held his mortgage or loans, or to investment accounts Epps set up … Epps is accused of steering the contracts to McCrory's companies, sometimes recommending to the state personnel board that companies be given no-bid or sole-source contracts … The conspiracy between Epps and McCrory allegedly started in late 2007, with Epps signing a no-bid MDOC contract for McCrory's company G.T. Enterprises to provide comissary services at state and private prisons … Epps awarded more contracts to companies owned by McCrory or that had paid McCrory.
Epps resigned from his position on Wednesday. Both Epps and McCrory pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, money laundering, and fraud on Thursday. The charges come as “the Justice Department is investigating treatment of prisoners and conditions at jails,” a person with knowledge of the investigation told the New York Times. “Advocates for prisoners say that stabbings, rapes, beatings and extortion are common in a number of the state’s jails.”