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After Paying $500,000 to Consultant Outed for Corruption Ties, Iowa DOC Accused of Allowing “Corporate Dodge”

by Jacob Barrett

After two staff members were brutally beaten to death by prisoners in March 2021, the Iowa Department of Corrections (DOC) hired prison consultant CGL Companies to review security at the Anamosa State Penitentiary. In return, DOC received a $500,000 bill and an audit report in December 2021 which allowed the agency to pass much of the blame back to state lawmakers for lack of funding.

But first, a month before that report was received, questions rose in November 2021 from watchdog groups and the top Democrat on the state legislative subcommittee overseeing DOC after revelations that CGL had failed to disclose a subsidiary settled a Mississippi lawsuit for $750,000, in apparent violation of bidding rules.

Igniting this chain of fireworks was a failed escape attempt by two Anamosa prisoners, Michael Dutcher, 28, and Thomas Woodard, 39, on March 21, 2021. Armed with tools from a repair crew, the two talked their way into the prison infirmary and took dental assistant Lorie Matthes hostage while they tried to saw their way through the barred window.

When that failed, they fatally hammered guard Robert McFarland and nurse Lorena Schulte, also mortally wounding fellow prisoner McKinley Roby, 57. Woodward was convicted of the murders and given two additional life terms on August 27, 2021. Dutcher got the same when he was convicted on September 15, 2021.

Meanwhile, DOC had given the half-million-dollar contract to figure out what went wrong to CGL, a Miami-based firm with 14 offices around the country whose website says its employees are “internationally recognized experts in justice facilities, specializing in facility planning, design, maintenance, and operations.”

But before the review was complete, news broke on November 11, 2021, that the firm had run afoul of state bidding guidelines by failing to disclose a Mississippi lawsuit settled for $750,000 by a subsidiary called CGL Facility Management in 2018 over its irregular relationship with then-Commissioner of that state’s DOC, Christopher Epps.

A federal corruption investigation had revealed Epps was the linchpin of network that fixed government bids and funneled millions into his coffers. A CGL consultant, former Democratic Mississippi State Sen. Irb Benjamin, pled guilty to funneling those payoffs to Epps and was later imprisoned for 70 months. Epps pled guilty to tax and money laundering charges. [See: PLN, Oct. 2017, p.16.]

Yet while Iowa rules require state contract bidders to disclose information about past lawsuits, and CGL clearly did not do so, DOC was quick to give the firm a pass, with spokesman Nick Crawford explaining it was a subsidiary that settled the Mississippi suit. That prompted public fretting from state Sen. Todd Taylor (D-Cedar Rapids), as well as advocate Neil Gordon of the Project on Government Oversight, who called it a “typical corporate dodge.”

However, DOC Director Beth Skinner insisted in a press release that getting the security review from GCL—despite the whiff of corruption wafting from its Mississippi dealings—was the “next step in making the prisons safer.”

On December 22, 2021, CGL released its findings that while DOC “has focused its efforts on improving the safety and security of its facilities” in the months since the staff murders, the effort faces headwinds from short-staffing and “significant recruitment and retention issues.”

Though DOC facilities required “greater consistency and system oversight,” the firm allowed, “DOC’s very small central office made it difficult to direct and monitor the performance of every prison.”

Adequate prison space was also lacking, the review found, counting 8,106 state prisoners held in facilities designed with just 6,990 beds.

None of that was news, of course, to DOC or the guards’ union, which had been saying the same thing for months to lawmakers holding the budget purse strings. As of May 6, 2022, neither house of the state legislature had taken up a budget for the coming fiscal year.  

Sources: Associated Press, Cedar Rapids Gazette, KCCI, KGAN, U.S. News

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