More delays in Epps bribery case

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Former state prisons chief Christopher Epps

Gabriel Austin

Former state prisons chief Christopher Epps

JACKSON — Lawyers for former state prisons chief Christopher Epps were given more time Thursday to review financial documents that could have bearing on his sentence in a federal kickback-bribery case.

U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate set a new court date for June 29 in the oft-delayed sentencing proceedings for Epps and his co-defendant, Rankin County businessman and former legislator Cecil McCrory.

“The defense has had no opportunity to study these records – to probe them further,” Wingate said in granting defense teams more time to challenge financial documents subpoenaed by the government. Epps’ chief attorney, John Colette of Jackson, said after the hearing that the extra time will help him plan how to proceed on Epps’ behalf.

Both pleaded guilty in February. However, McCrory’s attorney, Carlos Tanner of Jackson, repeated Thursday that he plans to seek to withdraw McCrory’s guilty plea.

The government also said that it expected to wrap up any additional indictments in the case by the June 29 hearing.

Thursday’s hearing had been scheduled for Wingate to hear from corporate executives and financial officers about whether Epps’ misconduct resulted in any “net benefit” to their contracts with the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Darren Lamarca declined to say how much the government had spent to bring the corporate officials to Jackson from Texas, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., South Florida and local offices.

Epps and McCrory were arrested in August 2014 on multiple counts that they conspired for McCrory to get prison 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.

Prosecutors initially told Wingate the state’s loss from the scheme was at least $300 million but that estimate had soared to more than $800 million in April, which brought about evidence-gathering for Thursday’s hearing.

Epps has pleaded guilty to two counts – conspiring to disguise bribes to avoid detection and filing a false tax report to under-report his income. In Epps’ plea agreement, the government stated the maximum punishment for those two counts was no more than 23 years in prison and more than $500,000 fine and restitution for the state’s loss to be determined by the court.

McCrory pleaded guilty to the one count of disguising his bribes to Epps. He faces no more than 20 years in prison and a similar fine and restitution determined by the court.