More indictments coming in Epps bribery case

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JACKSON – Expect more indictments in the Mississippi Department of Corrections kickback-bribery scandal, which claimed its chief Christopher Epps in 2014, the prosecution announced today in federal court.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca told District Judge Henry T. Wingate that additional grand jury meetings are ahead with more charges to come in the case, which rocked the state prison system.

“Not all (cases) have been presented” to a federal grand jury, LaMarca said Monday morning during a hearing where Epps was supposed to be sentenced on two counts. LaMarca and defense counsel John Collette asked for more time for the case to unfold.

Wingate agreed to a June 9 hearing on documents the government claims boost the gross value of contracts possibly tainted by Epps’ favors to more than $800 million, up from the original $300 million.

Epps, 45, and Rankin County businessman Cecil McCrory, a former legislator, were arrested in August 2014 on multiple counts that they conspired for McCrory to get MDOC vending business, while Epps would get bribes. They also were accused of money laundering and fraud to corrupt a public official, while Epps was accused of illegally structuring financial transactions to evade attention of the IRS.

Epps pleaded guilty to two of 41 charges, with the potential for up to 23 years in prison and a $750,000 fine, plus restitution. McCrory also pleaded guilty.

But Wingate delayed Epps’ sentence until July 18 to give all sides time to address new information by the government, as well as any additional “substantial assistance” Epps might have provided if more indictments come down.

An additional surprise came from McCrory’s attorney Carlos Tanner, who told the court he planned to file a motion to overturn his client’s 2015 guilty plea.

McCrory was slated to be sentenced June 9, but Tanner told Wingate that issues likely to be raised in the documents hearing could affect his defense. “If (the government is) shuffling numbers, I have to have time to contest that,” he said.

Tanner is new to McCrory’s defense and said it’s taken him weeks to get an overview of the evidence, which he insisted has raised numerous questions.

As for Epps’ situation, Collette urged Wingate not to sentence his client until all the indictments and a potential McCrory trial are done because Epps should get credit for his full cooperation and testimony against any other involved in the scheme.

Otherwise, Collette said he will be “obligated to name names, dates and places so you’re aware of the nature of his cooperation to merit consideration.”

LaMarca told Wingate “a few” others have been charged with “several” pending.

“I’m not at liberty to explain fully,” he noted.

He said additional investigation will take at least another 30 days, with documents to be gathered from about 15 more contracts for services with MDOC while Epps was its chief.

That information will be needed to determine “the harm to the state” by the illegal activity associated with their awards or management via bribes to Epps, LaMarca told the court.