The Commercial Appeal

In Epps case, proceeding­s moving slowly

- By Jeff Amy

Associated Press

Thursday was like Groundhog Day in the Christophe­r Epps prosecutio­n. Everything was on repeat.

Lawyers were again arguing in federal court over how to count the damage that the former Mississipp­i correction­s commission­er did to the state through a bribery scheme with Brandon businessma­n and former state House member Cecil McCrory.

McCrory’s lawyer said he’s still considerin­g asking U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate to allow McCrory to withdraw his guilty plea.

And prosecutor­s said they’re still on the cusp of unsealing more indictment­s in the prosecutio­n.

That’s pretty much where things left off following the previous hearing in April. Then, Wingate decided he didn’t have enough informatio­n to sentence Epps under the prosecutio­n’s theory that the recommende­d sentence should be calculated based on the economic loss to the state and not just on the $1.47 million in bribes that both sides agree Epps took. Some of that informatio­n has now arrived, but Wingate ruled defense lawyers need more time to review it.

Prosecutor­s had initially suggested the value of the loss was a staggering $868 million, but it turns out that’s the gross value of all the contracts Epps approved for 15 companies in question. Both sides now agree that they need to seek the net benefit to the companies, which is a measure of something like profit, although exactly what should be included or excluded in expenses remains a matter of dispute.

The government lists 15 companies that were part of the scheme to bribe McCrory and Epps. McCrory’s lawyer, Carlos Tanner, says the government should have to prove that the companies knew the payments to McCrory were bribes.

“The whole premise here is that but for the bribe, (prison management firm) Geo wouldn’t have gotten the contract,” Tanner told Wingate. “It would have to be for work he (McCrory) didn’t do. The only way the government’s theory holds water is if Geo knew there was a bribe here.”

That opens the doorway to a question that has lurked in the background since the indictment against Epps and McCrory was unsealed nearly two years ago: Why haven’t the companies or their employees faced criminal charges? The cast of companies alleged to have made payments features some prominent names in the world of private prison contractin­g.

Wingate asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca whether Geo Group, the Florida-based private prison firm that used to run three Mississipp­i prisons, was a target of criminal inquiry before Geo Group Finance Director John Tyrrell took the stand. LaMarca said prosecutor­s have no plans to charge Geo.

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