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Mississippi sues to recover bribe-tainted prison money

By Jeff Amy

Associated Press

JACKSON — Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood on Wednesday sued 25 people and companies associated with the state’s prison bribery scheme, saying they should repay more than $800 million in revenue they received from the state.

Hood, a Democrat, announced the 11 lawsuits Wednesday, saying Mississippi’s anti-racketeering law requires the companies and individuals to repay all the revenue they received from the state.

“The companies wouldn’t have gotten the contracts but for the fraud,” Hood said. “So we intend to get the entire amount, plus attorney’s fees, plus punitive damages. You know there’s got to be some financial punishment of people who do this, to deter this type conduct in the future.”

Among those named in Hood’s suits are former Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps and seven other people who have pleaded guilty or face federal criminal charges.

Epps, who has pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing in May, is named is all the suits. Lawyer John Colette, who represents him, said he hadn’t seen the suits and declined comment. Carlos Tanner, who represents Brandon businessman Cecil McCrory in criminal proceedings, said he didn’t know if he would represent McCrory in the seven civil cases that name him. McCrory has pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison.

Hood is also suing multiple current and former private prison contractors for the state, and said he believes evidence turned up in the federal criminal prosecutions showed that some companies knew of the bribes.

“They are responsible for the acts of their agents,” Hood said. “To prove that they knew, this will be part of this litigation.” He said the state will seek testimony from people who have been convicted, saying they can no longer refuse to testify to avoid self-incrimination.

The companies have generally denied knowing about the bribes and no executives of large companies have yet faced charges. For example, the Geo Group, which ran a number of private prisons from 1994 to 2012, said it never knew of the bribery and has cooperated with federal authorities.

“We believe the allegations against GEO have no merit, and we intend to vigorously defend our company,” spokesman Pablo Paez wrote in an email.