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2 more charged with bribing Epps for state prison contracts

Prosecutors said they have charged Irb Benjamin, a former state senator, and Sam Waggoner, the nephew of a former state transportation commissioner

By Jeff Amy
Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. — Federal prosecutors announced Friday that two more men have been charged with paying bribes and kickbacks to a former Mississippi corrections commissioner in exchange for contracts.

Prosecutors said they have charged Irb Benjamin, a former state senator, and Sam Waggoner, the nephew of a former state transportation commissioner.

As in the earlier case that ensnared former Commissioner Christopher Epps and businessman Cecil McCrory, both Benjamin and Waggoner are accused of passing cash to the longtime chief of the state prison system. In return, Epps steered contracts to them.

Benjamin and Waggoner are scheduled to appear in federal court Friday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Ball. It wasn’t immediately clear if either man has a lawyer. Actual court papers were not yet available electronically.

Prosecutors said Benjamin, 69, who now lives in Madison, was indicted on one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and two counts of bribery. The indictment alleges Benjamin benefited from the scheme in two different ways. First, prosecutors say he gave Epps bribes and kickbacks in exchange for the state selecting his company, Mississippi Correctional Management, to provide drug and alcohol treatment services to inmates at state work centers in Alcorn and Simpson counties. The company collected about $774,000 for those services.

Secondly, the indictment alleges that Benjamin paid Epps in exchange for Epps’ helping the company get consulting contracts with Alcorn, Washington and Chickasaw counties. All three of those counties built regional jails that are eligible to host state inmates, but only if they were certified by the American Correctional Association. Benjamin was supposed to help those counties get that certification. His company collected $862,000 from the three counties.

Benjamin is also alleged to have paid monthly kickbacks to Epps out of consultant fees he received from Carter Goble Lee, which was hired in 2014 to provide maintenance services to the state prison system.

It wasn’t immediately clear how much Benjamin or Epps is alleged to have personally profited.

Sam Waggoner, 61, of Carthage, faces a criminal charge that says he bribed Epps while working as a consultant for prison phone company Global Tel-Link. Being charged without indictment, as Waggoner has been, often indicates that a defendant has already agreed to plead guilty.

Waggoner faces up to 10 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. Benjamin faces up to 40 years in prison and up to $750,000 in fines. Prosecutors said they want to make Benjamin forfeit gains from the crimes, an avenue they’re pursuing against Epps and McCrory.