Texas businessman admits guilt in Epps bribery case

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JACKSON – Texas businessman Mark Longoria told a federal judge Wednesday that he plotted to fix bid specifications to block out other vendors from contracts with the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

Longoria told U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate that before his company sought business with the Corrections Department, he was told “we had to go through Cecil McCrory,” who previously entered a guilty plea in the long-running influence peddling case. McCrory’s lawyer has since told the court he will change his plea.

Longoria spoke during a nearly two-hour hearing in which he pleaded guilty to paying nearly $230,000 in “commissions” to McCrory’s Investigative Research Inc. company for some $782,000 in contracts with the Mississippi Department of Corrections, then run by Commissioner Christopher Epps.

“Why was he the consultant you had to work with?” Wingate asked him.

Mark Longoria of Houston, Texas, shields his faces as he enters the federal courthouse in Jackson on Wednesday.

Rogelio V. Solis, AP

Mark Longoria of Houston, Texas, shields his faces as he enters the federal courthouse in Jackson on Wednesday.

“I don’t know,” replied the Longoria, 53, from Houston, Texas.

He also told the court he wasn’t aware at first that he was paying any money to Epps, but that later McCrory talked about “his commission and Epps’.”

“That’s when I put two and two together – regrettably, I did not object,” Longoria said.

On July 25, Longoria was accused of a conspiracy to gain business with the Corrections Departmnet by funneling kickbacks and bribes through McCrory. The charges came in a bill of information, which is a government charge not made through a grand jury

Prosecutor Darren LaMarca told the court that Longoria and his company, Drug Testing Corp., paid McCrory’s company each time it got paid by Mississippi Department of Corrections for drug testing cups. Payments to Epps totaled about $60,000, he said.

“When confronted with the evidence, McCrory admitted he conspired with Longoria to make Drug Testing Corp an exclusive provider” for the Corrections Department, LaMarca said.

With his guilty plea, Longoria faces up to five years in prison, a $131,000 cash forfeiture, and a $250,000 fine. His sentencing was set for Oct. 13.

Epps pleaded guilty in February to conspiring to accept kickbacks and bribes totaling more than $1.4 million. He has not been sentenced.

Earlier, Teresa Malone, wife of former state representative Bennett Malone of Carthage, made her initial appearance before Magistrate Judge Keith Ball.

She is under a federal indictment accusing her of making monthly payments to Epps between 2010 and 2014 to secure and retain contracts for her employer, AdminPros LLC of Illinois, to provide medical vendor monitoring and Medicaid eligibility services to the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Malone’s husband was once chairman of the House Corrections Committee.

A grand jury indictment accuses Malone of three counts of wire fraud and paying kickbacks. If convicted, she faces up to 30 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Malone faces an Oct. 3 trial. Her attorney, Jamie Franks of Tupelo, advised the court he will seek a continuance because he will be out of the country on legal business during the fall.

Four others also were indicted in the scandal, which rocked the state agency in 2014 and brought about Epps’ removal as the state’s longest serving corrections chief.

Franks advised the court that Malone is a double-lung transplant recipient and would need medical treatment at Oschner’s in New Orleans. Ball said the court would be responsive to her medical needs.

Both Malone and Longoria are free on $10,000 unsecured bond each.

  • Charles Pearce

    Anyone believing Mr. Longoria’s story about the payment of commissions should be drug tested immediately with much less expensive cups.