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Press Release

Biloxi Businessman Pleads Guilty in Kickback Scheme with MDOC Commissioner

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Mississippi

Gulfport, Miss - Robert Simmons, 60, a businessman from Biloxi, Mississippi, pled guilty today before U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden to a Criminal Information charging him with carrying out a complicated kickback scheme in which he paid money to the commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) and to a Harrison County Supervisor in exchange for lucrative contracts with the state and county, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Harold Brittain and FBI Special Agent in Charge Don Alway. Simmons will be sentenced on May 26, 2016 at 9:00 a.m., and faces a maximum penalty of ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

By virtue of Simmons’ relationship with the commissioner and supervisor and the kickbacks which he paid to both, he was successful in securing and keeping contracts with both governmental entities. Specifically, from 2012 through August 2014, Simmons was paid $4,000 a month as a consultant for Sentinel Offender Services, L.L.C. (Sentinel). Since 2012, Sentinel was under contract with the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) to provide services to aid in the monitoring and managing of offenders sentenced to probation or parole. Simmons deposited a portion of his monthly pay, a kickback of $1400, directly into the bank account of Christopher Epps, the Commissioner of the MDOC, at bank branch locations along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

AJA Management and Technical Services (AJA) provided construction management services to the MDOC for the construction of the $40,000,000 expansion to the East Mississippi Correctional Facility and a $40,000,000 expansion to the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility. Throughout the eighteen month period of construction, Simmons received a monthly consulting fee from AJA of $10,000. Every month, a portion of Simmons’ consulting fee was paid to the Commissioner of the MDOC.

From approximately 2005 through 2011, Health Assurance L.L.C. contracted with the Harrison County Jail to provide inmate medical services. The owner of Health Assurance L.L.C. paid Simmons a consulting fee which, at the end of the contract, was as high as $10,000 a month. Throughout this period of time, Simmons made payments in the amount of $2,000 a month to a Harrison County Supervisor for assistance provided in securing the contract at the Harrison County Jail for inmate medical services.

Throughout the relevant time period, the Commissioner of the MDOC exercised influence in the awarding of contracts with the MDOC. In return for these contracts and in order to secure future contracts and favors, Simmons began paying Commissioner Epps.

In summary, Simmons paid bribes and kickbacks to a Harrison county supervisor and to the commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, and both Harrison County and the Mississippi Department of Corrections received more than $10,000 during each one year period beginning in 2008 and continuing through 2014.

Acting U.S. Attorney in this case, Harold Brittain, praised the FBI agents for their work in identifying the conduct and ferreting out those individuals responsible for compromising the systems upon which taxpayers should be entitled to rely in ensuring that public funds are spent wisely. “Public officials soliciting and receiving bribes and kickbacks cannot be allowed to violate the public trust by participating in the expenditures of funds provided by taxpayers in support of government projects and contracts,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Brittain. “These projects must be awarded honestly and transparently.”

“Public Corruption investigations like these are a top priority for the FBI because those who would betray the public’s trust and confidence for self-gain undermine the very fabric of our democracy,” said Don Alway, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Jackson Division.

Updated February 19, 2016

Public Corruption