State legislator calls for hearing on corrections corruption - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

State legislator calls for hearing on corrections corruption

David Baria Source: David Baria David Baria Source: David Baria
Chris Eppes Source: WLBT archives Chris Eppes Source: WLBT archives
JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

State Representative David Baria has called for a Legislative hearing on recent charges against long-time MDOC Commissioner Chris Epps for an alleged bribery and kickback scheme dating as far back as 2007. 

Baria also called into question the reasoning behind Epps' re-appointments even while he was under intense investigation by at least one state agency, according to reports.

“The conduct alleged in the indictment—bribery and kickbacks concealed as consulting services—enriched individuals at the expense of Mississippi taxpayers,” Baria, an attorney, said. “As a member of the Legislature charged with being a good steward of public resources, I have questions about what our state leaders knew and when they knew it as it relates to former Commissioner Epps."

On November 6, a federal indictment was handed down against Epps for schemes that allegedly enriched him and his friends by millions of dollars. It appears that Epps was reappointed to his powerful position twice while under investigation: once by former Gov. Haley Barbour in 2008 and again by Gov. Phil Bryant in 2012.

“Why was such a powerful official who was under intense scrutiny for years allowed to remain in his position? How much state money has been wasted by the failure to stop shady business deals by an official under investigation?” Baria said.

“Sadly, the MDOC scandal is not an isolated incident of government corruption in our state. It is just the latest example of a larger trend of corruption and cronyism in Mississippi government over the past decade. From the Department of Marine Resources scandal that resulted in multiple federal convictions to a former State Representative being forced to resign for steering state contracts to his family business, there is a disturbing trend of political appointments and state contracts being used to enrich the politically well-connected,” Baria said.

“The frequent use of no-bid and single source procurement contracts similarly puts money in the pockets of the well-connected, but at exorbitant costs to the Mississippi taxpayer,” Baria said. “At a time when we are told by Republican leadership that the State does not have the money to adequately fund education and ensure that working-class Mississippians have access to healthcare, there never seems to be a shortage of funds to enrich those who feed at the trough of state government.

“In light of this trend that only continues to fester, I am asking that we in the Legislature convene hearings to investigate why former Commissioner Epps was allowed to remain in his position despite a long-pending investigation and to comprehensively review the handling of state contracts. Mississippi must get out of the business of back room deals that benefit no one but politicians and their friends and family.”

Baria said he intends to pursue his request for hearings and will be introducing legislation to rein in the lucrative no-bid contract system currently in place.

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