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Major Prison Health Care Companies Funnel Campaign Contributions to Sheriffs, Get Rewards

by David M. Reutter

Campaign contributions from private medical provider Wellpath to Virginia’s Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman may be legal under Virginia law but are raising ethical questions. Wellpath is already under federal investigation for a contract renewal in Norfolk County.

Wellpath was known as Correct Care Solutions until October of 2018. Correct Care obtained the contract to provide medical and mental health care to detainees at the Loudoun County Adult Detention Center in 2005. It then began to make thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to former Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson.

Chapman was elected sheriff in 2012, and Correct Care made its first contribution to Chapman’s reelection campaign in 2014. Since then, Chapman has accepted at least $14,750 from the prison-profiteering health-care company. Wellpath has 245 contracts to provide health care to detainees across the nation.

It stays active in the political process. Over a 12-year period, Wellpath and Correct Care contributed around $41,000 to Virginia sheriffs. “This is so widespread and so common, it’s the status quo,” said Max Rose, executive director of Sheriffs for Trusting Communities.

Such contributions are “ethically questionable” said Chapman’s opponent for sheriff, Justin Hannah. “When the Sheriff is accepting political donations in the thousands of dollars from the company that provides medical services to the jail, it raises questions as to whether he is putting his candidacy before the safety of the community and true welfare of those in jail.”

Others question whether it skews the procurement process. When the Wellpath contract was renewed in 2017, its bid was almost $600,000 above the lowest bidder and the second highest bid.

Chapman and others said he did not participate in the procurement process, but three of his employees were on the five-member Board of Supervisors finance committee that chose the winner.

Wellpath’s bid was “very detailed and demonstrated knowledge of what we were looking for,” said Sheriff’s Major Michael Manning, who was a committee member. “We’ve had a relationship with this company for over 11 years. They came to the table and they gave us everything we asked for in a very detailed manner.”

Chapman said his only contact with Correct Care or Wellpath officials are at sheriff’s association conferences and at his annual fundraising golf tournament, which was sponsored in part by Correct Care.

Currying favor is an obvious motivation for campaign contributions, and federal investigators are looking into whether former Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe helped Correct Care during the bid process for services at his jail. McCabe served as sheriff from 1994 to 2016. Between 2011 and that latter year, Correct Care donated $36,500 to McCabe’s campaign coffers. 

The company’s bid to provide medical services to the Norfolk City Jail was around $200,000 higher than that of a competitor. McCabe privately suggested alerting Correct Care to the difference but he dropped the matter when told that would be illegal. Yet Correct Care subsequently revised its bid to undercut the competitor.

Last October, McCabe was indicted on federal public corruption charges for allegedly taking bribes, including cash, travel and campaign contributions, from companies awarded contracts at the city jail, including Correct Care. That company’s founder, Gerard Boyle, was also indicted. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

While no impropriety has been raised concerning the Loudoun County bid, Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis J. Randall was not pleased about being forced to approve a bid that was well above others. She bemoaned state regulations that allowed only negotiations with the top-ranked bidder. Another issue was the Board was faced with a contract expiring in about two weeks, which gave the committee “few options” other than to approve the higher bid.

Another issue with such contributions is the Sheriff may look the other way as the contractor carries out its work. “It does create this perverse incentive to scrimp on care,” said Corene Kendrick, an attorney with the Prison Law Center, “because for every lab test not run or specialist visit not done, that’s just additional profit that the company can pocket.” 



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