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Director of Florida's Private Prison Commisssion Resigns, Fined $10,000 for Ethics Violations

Agreeing to pay $10,000 for ethics violations, the director of Florida's agency overseeing private prison contracts resigned in April, 2002. The Florida Ethics Commission has accepted the settlement. C. Mark Hodges was in charge of Florida's Correctional Privatization Commission (CPC), a state agency empowered to award contracts to private prison companies where it would save the state money over the cost of state-run prisons. As director, he was the natural target of the Florida state prison guards union, the Florida Police Benevolent Association (FPBA).

In November, 2001, FPBA tipped off the Florida Department of Management Services that out-of-use computers at CPC had been illegally used to access porn websites. This proved to be true. Under Florida's open records law, it was legal for FPBA to download the computers' hard drives. Ken Kopczynski, an FPBA political affairs assistant, claimed he was only looking "to find evidence of Hodges doing private consulting" by checking the computers. "That's when we hit the porno." Hodges retorted that inspection of the unlocked computers was but another attempt by FPBA to discredit him with a smear campaign whose true motive was to derail non-union jobs. The union's complaint further alleged that Hodges failed to hold companies accountable for not delivering the promised savings. In the current year, Florida's Legislature ordered the companies running all five private prisons to deliver at least the 7% savings they had promised or their contracts would be revoked.

FPBA also alleged that Hodges was using state employees and equipment for his private consultation work. Acting on FPBA's complaint, the Ethics Commission found probable cause for seven ethics violations, including those allegations. Additionally, he failed to disclose speaking fees paid him by the companies bidding for state contracts, and he edited and sold a state manual on private prisons to the city of Youngstown, Ohio, for $7,500 instead of just charging copying costs. He also allegedly attempted to mislead investigators.

Saying "it was time to move on," Hodges resigned and took a position with Homeland Security, Inc., a Nashville, Tennessee, firm run by Doctor Grants, a founder of private prison conglomerate Corrections Corp. of America. With his resignation, Carol Atkinson was appointed Board of Directors for CPC appointed by Florida Governor Jeb Bush to oversee the Commission. State auditors have questioned several awards to private contractors where Kopczynski alleged that they had cost the state millions of dollars instead of saving millions. In a November, 2002, attempt to save money through privatization, Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice had to get an emergency appropriation of $730,000 to keep 45 state maintenance employees on the job. The bids for outsourcing it came in between $2.3 and $10.2 million.

Sources: Tampa Tribune, Tallahassee Democrat

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