JACKSON, Miss. – State Rep. David Baria, D-Waveland, Friday called for a legislative hearing to discuss recent corruption charges against former Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps.
In a federal indictment unsealed November 6, Epps was accused in a bribery and kickback scheme that federal investigators alleged dated back as far as the fall of 2007.
Epps, the state’s longest serving commissioner, was first appointed to the job in 2002 by then Governor Ronnie Musgrove. In a written statement, Baria questioned why Epps was re-appointed twice during the alleged activity and even while he was under investigation by at least one state agency. “As a member of the Legislature charged with being a good steward of public resources, I have questions about what our state leaders knew and when they knew it as it relates to former Commissioner Epps,” he wrote. “Why was such a powerful official who was under intense scrutiny for years allowed to remain in his position? How much state money has been wasted by the failure to stop shady business deals by an official under investigation?”
Baria said the alleged MDOC scandal is not an isolated incident of government corruption; but is instead only the latest example of a larger trend of corruption. “From the Department of Marine Resources scandal that resulted in multiple federal convictions to a former state representative being forced to resign from steering state contracts to his family business, there is a disturbing trend of political appointments and state contracts being used to enrich the politically well-connected.”
Baria said he plans to introduce legislation in the upcoming session to examine the no-bid contract system currently in place. “The frequent use of no-bid and single source procurement contracts similarly puts money in the pockets of the well-connected, but at exorbitant costs to the Mississippi taxpayer,” he wrote. At a time when we are told by Republican leadership that the State does not have the money to adequately fund education and ensure that working-class Mississippians have access to healthcare, there never seems to be a shortage of funds to enrich those who feed at the trough of state government.