Private prison operator fires consultant accused of bribing ex-Mississippi prison commissioner

Private prison contractor Management & Training Corp. says it has fired a consultant who prosecutors say bribed the former Mississippi Corrections Commissioner.

Utah-based MTC announced in a statement Monday that it has canceled its contract with Cecil McCrory, a former state lawmaker.

Both he and ex-Commissioner Christopher Epps were indicted last week on federal charges that said McCrory kicked back hundreds of thousands of dollars to Epps. Both men have pleaded not guilty. Federal prosecutors allege that Epps accepted more than $1 million in bribes over more than six years.

McCrory is alleged to have paid off a mortgage on Epps house in a gated community in Flowood and to have helped him buy a condo on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Prosecutors say that starting in 2007, Epps steered prison-services contracts toward companies with which McCrory was affiliated as owner or consultant. Epps is charged in 40 felony counts and McCrory in 15.

MTC confirmed, as the indictment alleges, that it paid McCrory $12,000 a month and hired him at Epps' recommendation. The company said, though, that Epps didn't force it to hire McCrory. MTC spokesman Issa Arnita, in the statement, also said that Epps "made us aware of the fee McCrory had charged in the past to other contractors" and said he had worked for Geo Group, the Florida-based private prison firm that preceded MTC. The indictment alleged McCrory also worked for Geo Group's predecessor, Cornell Group.

The indictment recounts a 2012 conversation in which Epps told McCrory that he persuaded MTC to hire McCrory, with the men splitting the money after taxes.

"I got us $12,000 per month," the indictment quoted Epps as saying.

The 49-count indictment, sealed since August, charges Epps, 53, with 35 felony counts and McCrory, 62, with 15 felony counts. Each faces charges including conspiracy, bribery and money laundering. If convicted on all counts, Epps faces up to 368 years in prison, and McCrory up to 210 years. Fines could reach $10 million for Epps and $4 million for McCrory.

Epps resigned last week, a day before the indictment was announced.

MTC, which runs four Mississippi private prisons on a contract worth $60 million a year, reiterated that it knew of no wrongdoing. Arnita said McCrory helped build ties to state and local officials and "worked at length" to explore a possible contract with the federal government to host inmates.

"MTC was not aware of any alleged inappropriate relationships between Mr. Epps and Mr. McCrory or that Mr. Epps was allegedly a participant in any way in the contract with McCrory," Arnita said.

The spokesman said that MTC approves of Mississippi's decision to rebid contracts mentioned in the indictment. Before Thursday, MTC was in the final stages of negotiating a renewal of its deal to run East Mississippi Correctional Facility, Marshall County Correctional Facility, Walnut Grove Correctional Facility and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility.

East Mississippi and Walnut Grove face allegations of prisoner mistreatment in federal lawsuits.


Follow Jeff Amy at: