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Press Release

Two Mississippi Businessmen Charged with Bribery of Former Corrections Commissioner

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

Jackson, Miss – Irb Benjamin, 69, of Madison, and Sam Waggoner, 61, of Carthage, were charged today with paying bribes and kickbacks to former Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner (MDOC) Christopher B. Epps in exchange for receiving contracts involving the MDOC and its operations, 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.

Benjamin was charged in a three count indictment returned by a federal grand jury with conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and with two counts of bribery. 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.

The indictment alleges that Benjamin paid Epps for Epps’ help in getting MCM consulting contracts with Alcorn, Washington and Chickasaw Counties. Those contracts involved Benjamin providing consulting services during the construction and the subsequent operation of three regional corrections facilities. Benjamin purportedly provided consulting services to assist the regional corrections facilities in obtaining and maintaining accreditation by the American Correctional Association. The contract with Alcorn County paid MCM about $399,260.00; the contract with Washington County paid MCM about $245,080.00; and, the contract with Chickasaw County paid MCM about $217,900.00.

The indictment also alleges 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.

Waggoner was charged by Criminal Information with one count of bribery related to his payments of bribes and kickbacks to Epps from sometime in 2012 until at least August 26, 2014. According to the Criminal Information, 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.

Harold Brittain, Acting U.S. Attorney in this case, stated: "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."

In commenting on this case, FBI SAC Donald Alway applauded the investigators and prosecutors, whose hard work and determined efforts revealed these additional participants in this conspiracy of public corruption, and led to the charges announced today. He added, “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.”

“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.”

Special Agent Jerome R. McDuffie, IRS – Criminal Investigation, stated: “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.”

“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."

Both defendants are 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 $250,000.00 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 $250,000.00 fine for the conspiracy count, and a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000.00 fine for each of the bribery counts. Benjamin also faces the forfeiture of his ill-gotten gains.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Mississippi State Auditor’s Office and IRS Criminal Investigation. It is being prosecuted by Deputy Criminal Chief Darren LaMarca, Assistant United States Attorney Scott Gilbert, and financial analyst Kim Mitchell.

Updated August 21, 2015