(CN) - Mississippi's top corrections official and a school board president were indicted Thursday on charges of bribery related to prison contracts.
The indictment comes one day after Department of Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps resigned. Epps and Rankin County School Board President Cecil McCrory both pleaded not guilty to a 49-count indictment Thursday afternoon, according to The Clarion-Ledger.
The Aug. 5, 2014 indictment was unsealed Thursday. It says McCrory paid Epps kickbacks in exchange for him awarding prison contracts, leases and work projects to companies owned by McCrory.
The businessman allegedly wired the prison boss money and sometimes paid the bribes in cash.
"In order to keep their relationship and financial agreement confidential, defendant Epps would store cash bribe payments received from defendant McCrory in Epp's safe at home, wherein Epps would later structure the deposits of such cash into Epp's various bank accounts or purchase cashier's checks, all in amounts not greater than $10,000," the 49-count indictment states.
The federal government plans to seize Epps' bank accounts, condo, house, and two Mercedes Benz, according to the indictment.
The Mississippi prison system has been under scrutiny in recent years. The Southern Poverty Law Center and American Civil Liberties Union lawyers sued Epps and two other corrections officials in May 2013 on behalf of a group of prisoners.
They claimed that a prison near Meridian, Miss. "is an extremely dangerous facility operating in a perpetual state of crisis, where prisoners live in barbaric and horrific conditions and their basic human rights are violated daily," according to the complaint.
Epps said in an Oct. 11, 2014 op-ed published in The Clarion-Ledger that newspaper reporting on the state's prison system has been inaccurate.
"Denying there is violence in prison is like denying day turns into night. After all, prison is made up of people who have killed, stolen, robbed, raped or otherwise run afoul of the law," Epps wrote. "However, the episodes of violence are not to the degree of lawlessness as the stories depict."
The ACLU and SPLC lawsuit alleged "grossly inhumane conditions" at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility.
"Among the hundreds of mentally ill prisoners at EMCF are many whose untreated illnesses lead to extreme behaviors such as screaming, babbling, throwing excrement, and starting fires. Suicide attempts are frequent; some are successful," the complaint states. "Other prisoners engage in gross acts of self-mutilation, including electrocution, swallowing shards of glass and razors, and tearing into their flesh with sharp objects. Defendants deny prisoners even rudimentary mental health treatment and, last year, reduced access to psychiatric care."
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant responded to a request for comment from Courthouse News by saying, "I am disappointed and angered that the former Commissioner of the Department of Corrections appears to be involved in illegal activity.
. "Such behavior cannot be tolerated, and I am convinced the state auditor and U.S. Attorney will make certain justice is done," Bryant said.
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