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Phone Graft in Florida

Competing telephone companies submitted bids to provide "inmate phone services" to 35 Florida prisons. The contract was awarded to North American Intelecom (NAI) Inc. over rival MCI Telecommunications. MCI filed a protest based on the fact that they scored higher than NAI in the Department of Corrections' bid ranking system. MCI's protest prompted an investigation of the matter by governor Lawton Chiles.

On February 19, an investigator from the governor's office urged that two DOC officials be disciplined for destroying public documents related to the telephone contract bidding process. DOC Secretary Harry Singletary said he was reviewing the investigator's report and that unspecified "disciplinary actions will be taken" against Assistant Secretary Ron Kronenberger and chief of the DOC's bureau of general services, Jim Morris.

The report said that Kronenberger and Morris ordered underlings to destroy internal memos which had recommended awarding the contract to MCI. According to the report, Kronenberger and Morris claimed to have awarded the contract to NAI because it would have given more money back to the state (kick-back) from the toll calls. The report also stated, however, that the state share of the profits was already factored into the bid rankings and that NAI had a lower overall score due in part to a poor track record for overbilling.

The report also faulted the DOC for a separate phone contract to WorldCom, Inc. at six prisons because that contract was never competitively bid and that a personal friendship between Deputy DOC Secretary William Thurber and WorldCom lobbyist Liddon Albert Woodard Jr. creates an "appearance of impropriety."

In this instance the DOC's shenanigans came to light only as a result of MCI's muckraking. As is seen in the above examples, kick-backs are one of the prime factors considered by DOCs when awarding telephone contracts; they don't always choose the company that provides the best service or offers the lowest rates. As a result, prisoners and their families are being ripped off. This is an area in which prisoners, family members and prison rights activists need to do a little muckraking of their own. There's plenty of muck in prison telephone contracts, and the way in which they are awarded, to be raked up.

Source: Palm Beach Post

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