by Kevin W. Bliss
After Florida Senate President Joe Negron stepped down from his office in the legislature, he was immediately hired by the same private prison company that he helped secure $6.9 million in state funding over the past two years.
The Boca Raton-based GEO Group announced on November 29, 2018 that Negron would fill retired John Bulfin’s post as the company’s general counsel, a position that pays $400,000 annually for a “continuous ‘rolling’ two-year term” with renewal options for up to the next 10 years, according to an SEC filing. Bulfin’s annual salary was over $500,000 and he had an overall compensation package of $2.5 million. When asked what Negron’s compensation package would be, GEO spokesman Pablo Paez refused to comment.
GEO Group had supported Negron and the senate committees he controlled since 2013, making more than $300,000 in political contributions. In addition, financial records show the company donated over $100,000 to Negron’s wife, Rebecca, and to Conservative Congress Now! – a super PAC that supported her failed 2016 congressional bid.
GEO Group operates five of Florida’s seven private prisons, for which the current state budget – which Negron had a hand in shaping – included a $4 million payment increase. Negron said the funding boost was necessary to keep the salaries of private prison guards comparative to those at state-run prisons.
“We gave a substantial pay increase to employees who work in our prisons. The problem is it created a wage disparity with the employees of our private prisons that are partners with us as well,” Negron told the Tampa Bay Times. [See: PLN, Dec. 2018, p.58].
Why Florida taxpayers were funding salary increases for private prison employees, instead of the companies that employed them, was a question that went unanswered.
In 2018, $2.9 million in state funding went to help GEO expand its Continuum of Care rehabilitation program that was available at only one of the company’s prisons, the Graceville Correctional Facility, prior to the allotment.
“As senate president, Mr. Negron made sure to take care of his friends at GEO, just as they took care to support his wife’s congressional run, related political committees and other initiatives,” said state Representative David Richardson. “It does not surprise me that the GEO leaders have now offered him a big job inside their private industrial complex.” He added, “All taxpayers should be appalled by the apparent conflicts of interest.”
According to GEO Group, Negron will “oversee GEO’s corporate governance, financial and regulatory disclosures and litigation-related matters.”
Sources: politico.com, floridaphoenix.com, sunshinestatenews.com
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