JACKSON, Miss.–Paying former Dept. of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps so they could benefit from Corrections contracts is the charge against Irb Benjamin, 69, of Madison, and Sam Waggoner, 61, of Carthage. The two were indicted by a federal grand jury, announced Acting United States Attorney Harold Brittain, FBI Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Donald Alway, IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Jerome McDuffie, U.S. Postal Inspector Robert Wemyss, and Mississippi State Auditor Stacey Pickering.
According to the indictment returned against Benjamin, from some time in 2010 until September, 2014, Benjamin gave Epps bribes and kickbacks in exchange for Epps awarding or directing the awarding of MDOC contracts or work to Benjamin’s company, Mississippi Correctional Management (MCM), to provide alcohol and drug treatment services to inmates at MDOC work centers in Alcorn and Simpson Counties. MCM was paid about $774,000.00 as a result of those contracts.
Epps may have also helped get Benjamin consulting jobs in Alcorn, Chickasaw and Washington counties while jails were being built there. The consulting work was so those prisons could maintain accreditation.
The contract with Alcorn County paid MCM about $399,260; the contract with Washington County paid MCM about $245,080; and, the contract with Chickasaw County paid MCM about $217,900, said a joint news release from the feds and Pickering.
The indictment also says that Benjamin paid Epps monthly kickbacks from the consultant fees Benjamin received from Carter Gobal Lee Facility Management (CGL), after CGL obtained a contract in 2014 to provide maintenance services to MDOC facilities. Epps used his influence over CGL to get Benjamin the job as a consultant for CGL. The value of the CGL contract was $4,800,000.
For Carthage businessman Sam Waggoner, the charges were less extensive. The bribes and kickbacks happened from 2012 to Aug. 2014, said the indictment.
Waggoner was a consultant for Global Tel-Link (GTL), which provided telephone services at MDOC facilities. The Criminal Information cites two specific instances in 2014 where Waggoner paid Epps kickbacks from money Waggoner received from GTL as a consultant.
The Possible Punishment
Both defendants were scheduled to make their initial appearances before U.S. Magistrate Judge F. Keith Ball on Friday, August 21, 2015, at 1:30 p.m. Waggoner faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, as well as forfeiture of the proceeds he obtained as a result of the illegal conduct. Benjamin faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the conspiracy count, and a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of the bribery counts. Benjamin also faces the forfeiture of his ill-gotten gains.
What the Investigators Say
“The abuse of power and position by public officials has plagued our state for many years. Our tolerance for public corruption is zero. We will hold accountable under the law everyone who bears the responsibility of public service and sells the trust that has been bestowed upon them. We will not tolerate such fraud and abuses by public officials that have cost our citizens so dearly,” said Harold Brittain, Acting U.S. Attorney.
“Our society will not tolerate bribery, kickbacks, or other ‘under-the-table’ deals. This is not just another cost of doing business with government. The FBI, working alongside its law enforcement partners, will use every appropriate tool and available resource to find, stop, and punish those who conspire to betray the public trust in order to enrich themselves,” said Don Alway, special agent in charge of the FBI in Mississippi.
“Postal Inspectors bring to a task force unique skills for hunting down suspected fraud through the U.S. Mail,” said U.S. Postal Inspector in Charge Adrian Gonzalez. “Postal Inspectors steadfastly work with our partners and defend the nation’s mail system in hopes that criminals abusing the American public’s trust are brought to justice.”
“This is a very important investigation to the state of Mississippi and all individuals who rely on the trust they instill in their public officials, whether elected or appointed. The extent to which Christopher Epps has damaged that trust will require as much effort to rebuild as it did to uncover. The Special Agents of IRS – Criminal Investigation remain committed to working with our law enforcement partners in uncovering public corruption at even the highest levels of government, as well holding accountable those individuals involved,” said Special Agent Jerome R. McDuffie, IRS – Criminal Investigations.
“We will continue to fight public corruption in Mississippi and work with our partners,” said State Auditor Pickering. “Our agents and this team are working daily to identify and bring charges against all individuals associated with the Mississippi Department of Corrections case. I’d like to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office, FBI, IRS, and the U.S. Postal Service for a joint effort in this ongoing case.”