Business partners tried to bribe sheriff with casino chips

A man who met a sheriff in a casino bathroom to give him chips worth thousands of dollars pleaded guilty this week in a scheme to bribe public officials in exchange for contracts.

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Jacque Jackson, along with his business partners Michael LeBlanc Sr., Tawasky Ventroy and Michael LeBlanc Jr., all admitted to their roles in attempting to bribe that sheriff and a former Mississippi Department of Corrections commissioner, according to U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst and FBI Special Agent in Charge Michelle Sutphin.

The four men, who were associated with the Louisiana businesses Brothers Commissary Services and American Phone Systems, paid the bribes in an attempt to secure lucrative contracts for commissary and inmate calling services, officials said.

In October of 2014, Ventroy met with Christopher B. Epps, who was then Mississippi’s corrections commissioner, and paid Epps a $2,000 cash bribe for helping American Phone Systems get contracts in state prisons, according to officials.

The next month, a federal grand jury indicted Epps on 49 counts on allegations he took at least $1.4 million in bribes and kickbacks for steering state prison contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the Clarion Ledger reported. Epps was later sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison.

That December, Jackson met with Kemper County Sheriff James Moore in a bathroom during the state sheriff’s conference at a Biloxi casino — there were no cameras in the bathroom — officials said. Jackson gave Moore $2,000 in chips from LeBlanc Jr. and said he’d pay the sheriff another $1,000 once their companies were awarded contracts for the Kemper County jail.

But Moore was actually working undercover with federal authorities. When the FBI confronted Jackson, officials said he admitted to the bribe.

“Mississippians are sick and tired of corruption, and those who bribe our public officials will soon find themselves in a federal indictment,” Hurst said. “This office has made fighting public corruption a priority, and we will continue working with all of our partners to end corruption throughout our state.”

Sentencing in the case is scheduled for next February. Each of the four men faces as much as five years in prison plus three years of probation and a $250,000 fine.