Tuesday, July 19, 2016
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Former Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps and Brandon businessman Cecil McCrory will wait a little longer to find out their sentence after pleading guilty in connection to a prison contracts bribery case.
Federal prosecutors have said as many as 11 others could face criminal charges in the prison contract bribery scheme, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca said Monday prosecutors will announce some of those charged July 25, with defendants expected to appear before a federal magistrate in Jackson. LaMarca told U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate at least one defendant is expected to appear before Wingate that day, which could indicate that someone will make an immediate guilty plea.
Meanwhile Monday, Wingate gave lawyers another month to obtain and examine records from 16 companies that benefited financially from contracts on which kickbacks were paid. It's the fourth delay in sentencing the two men, who pleaded guilty in February 2015 . After that, Wingate plans to hold another status hearing and reset sentencing dates.
Epps faces up to 23 years on charges of money laundering and filing false tax returns related to $1.47 million in bribes prosecutors say he took. He's forfeiting $1.7 million in assets. McCrory, a former state House member, pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering conspiracy and faces a 20-year sentence. He's forfeiting $1.7 million in assets.
The sentencing of the men has been delayed because prosecutors want court officials to recommend a sentence based on the net monetary benefit obtained by companies from contracts tainted by bribery. Such a calculation would likely push up the sentencing recommendation for Epps. Defense lawyer John Colette has said Epps would face 14 years to 17 ½ years in prison based on the amount of bribes he took. But Colette said in court Monday that prosecutors are claiming the companies obtained $100 million to $120 million in benefit, which would mean probation officers would recommend the maximum of 23 years for Epps.
Wingate doesn't have to accept sentencing recommendations, and prosecutors have agreed to recommend less prison time for Epps because of his cooperation.
Defense lawyers Monday told Wingate they haven't gotten all the documents they want and that they need more time to review documents submitted to decide whether they'll question the accuracy of the companies' figures. Colette also indicated he intends to argue about how prosecutors are making their calculations, saying they're stripping out some overhead costs that should be included. Two companies associated with McCrory have yet to produce any information, although his defense lawyer, Carlos Tanner, suggested investigators had long ago seized any relevant documents.
Four companies are asking Wingate to seal the documents they're submitting, saying they could lose trade secrets if they're widely circulated. Wingate told them to more clearly indicate what needed to be secret in written motions.
In addition to McCrory, former prison phone consultant Sam Waggoner and Harrison County political operative Robert Simmons have pleaded guilty to bribing Epps in return for contracts. Simmons is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 15, while Waggoner's sentencing has been delayed until after the economic calculations for Epps are complete.
Former state Rep. Irb Benjamin of Madison is charged with bribing Epps for contracts at prison work centers and county jails. Benjamin's trial is now set for Oct. 3.