by Christopher Zoukis
As previously mentioned in PLN, Global Tel*Link Corp. (GTL), the largest provider of prison and jail phone services in the United States, has settled a lawsuit that accused the company of conspiring to bribe corrections officials in Mississippi. [See: PLN, Oct. 2017, p.16; Oct. 2015, p.42].
The suit stemmed from what Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood called “one of the largest and longest-running criminal and civil conspiracies in Mississippi government history.” Hood accused 10 individuals and 12 out-of-state corporations of using “consultants” as conduits to pay bribes and kickbacks to then-Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) Commissioner Christopher B. Epps in exchange for lucrative prison contracts.
Epps, who had worked for the MDOC for 32 years – 12 of those as Commissioner – and also served as president of the American Correctional Association, pleaded guilty to federal charges related to taking nearly $1.4 million in bribes. He is currently serving almost 20 years in prison.
According to the lawsuit filed by the AG’s office, GTL paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in “consulting fees” to Sam Waggoner, who then funneled some of those fees to bribe Epps to ensure that Global Tel*Link maintained its contract with the MDOC. Waggoner pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 60 months in federal prison.
While the suit alleges that GTL was a “willful participant” in the bribery scheme, the company did not admit to any wrongdoing when it agreed to settle the case for $2.5 million.
“We have always acted with integrity,” said Brian Oliver, GTL’s Chief Executive Officer. “So why are we settling? We can spend the next three years focused on innovation or litigation. We choose innovation.”
However, with the case settled, there will be no opportunity for Mississippi taxpayers to learn whether GTL intentionally entered into a “backroom” bribery scheme, as alleged in the lawsuit. For his part, Attorney General Hood lauded GTL for the settlement, which was announced in August 2017. See: Hood v. Global Tel*Link Corp., Circuit Court of Rankin County (MS), Case No. 17-27.
“I am pleased with Global Tel*Link for cooperating and quickly resolving this matter with the state’s taxpayers,” said Hood. “As a company that continues to contract with the State, Global Tel*Link quickly approached our office seeking settlement after the Epps scandal. Due to their cooperation, we have now resolved this matter.”
That’s correct – despite the bribery scheme, lawsuit and settlement, GTL continues to provide prison phone services to the MDOC.
The suit filed by Hood names several other companies as participants in the Epps bribery scandal, including major players in the prison services industry such as Management & Training Corp., The GEO Group and Wexford Health Sources.
“We will continue to aggressively pursue these remaining cases not only to disgorge these other companies and individuals of their ill-gotten profits, but also the value of the public contracts,” Hood said in a press release. “Before this is over, companies that aren’t willing to do right by Mississippi taxpayers will wish they never heard the word ‘consultant’ or ‘bribe’ in the State of Mississippi. Corporations who play these illegal games with Mississippi taxpayers’ money should take note that the State of Mississippi will get its money back and then some.”
The lesson for the remaining corporate defendants is simple: Hurry up and pay. Perhaps then, like GTL, they can continue to do business with the state.
Two other companies sued by Hood’s office in connection with the Epps bribery scandal also have settled, including Alere, Inc. (which had purchased Branan Medical Corp.) and Sentinel Offender Services, LLC. [See: PLN, March 2018, p.35].
Most recently another company, CGL Facility Management, LLC, entered into a settlement with state officials in February 2018. CGL agreed to pay $750,000 to resolve the AG’s lawsuit; the firm provides project and facility management as well as maintenance services for correctional facilities. This brings the total amount recovered by the state in the bribery scandal to $6,550,000 thus far.
Sources: www.usnews.com, www.clarionledger.com, www.ago.state.ms.us, www.prnewswire.com, www.newsms.fm
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Related legal case
Hood v. Global Tel*Link Corp.
|Circuit Court of Rankin County (MS), Case No. 17-27