JACKSON, Miss. (CN) — Mississippi sued 10 people and 15 corporations this week to recoup more than $800 million in state money lost in a seven-year prison bribery scandal.
Defendants in the 11 lawsuits included former Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps, and former Republican state House Member Cecil McCrory, the key figures in the conspiracy. They and four other people pleaded guilty to their involvement in the conspiracy.
Attorney General Jim Hood says in the lawsuits that multiple corporations, including prominent private prison contractors, paid millions of dollars in bogus “consulting fees” to people who used the money to pay bribes and kickbacks to Epps.
Epps then steered approximately $800 million in public contracts to those private prison contractors.
“The state of Mississippi has been defrauded through a pattern of bribery, kickbacks, misrepresentations, fraud, concealment, money laundering and other wrongful conduct,” Hood said in a statement. “These individuals and corporations that benefited by stealing from taxpayers must not only pay the state’s losses, but state law requires that they must also forfeit and return the entire amount of the contracts paid by the state.”
The state seeks forfeiture of all the money received by the people and corporations, and punitive damages “to punish these conspirators,” the attorney general said.
Hood, a Democrat, said the 25 defendants violated Mississippi’s public ethics, racketeering and antitrust laws.
The lawsuits called the prison bribery scandal “one of the largest and longest-running criminal and civil conspiracies in Mississippi government history.”
Defendant corporations include The GEO Group; Mississippi Correctional Management; Global Tel*Link Corporation; Health Assurance LLC; and Keefe Commissary Network LLC.