Former mayor to be sentenced in inmate sex case

Former Walnut Grove Mayor Grady Sims.

JACKSON – (AP) Before he was charged with sexually assaulting an inmate and trying to cover it up, Grady Sims was one of the longest serving mayors in Mississippi and the warden of a private prison in his hometown of Walnut Grove.

Now he’s about to become a prisoner.

On Tuesday, the 61-year-old Sims will stand before a federal judge in Jackson and find out his sentence. He faces up to 20 years and a $250,000 fine for intimidating a witness, a charge that stems from recorded phone calls in which Sims told the female inmate to lie about their trip to a hotel in 2009.

Sims was indicted in U.S. District Court in Jackson on Oct. 18, 2011, on charges that he sexually assaulted the inmate and later told her to lie to investigators about it.

The indictment accused him of intimidating a witness and depriving the prisoner of her civil rights while acting in his official capacity. He pleaded guilty to the intimidation charge in February. Sims was required to resign as mayor immediately and never work in government again.

Sims’ attorney did not respond to a message.

Sims was first elected mayor in 1981. He became warden of the Walnut Grove Transition Center in October 2009. The facility was privately-owned and operated and had contracts with the Mississippi Department of Corrections. It was built in an old garment factory and designed as a “re-entry” facility and restitution center where inmates were allowed to get jobs in the private sector, according to a March 2009 press release that announced its opening.

The prisoner is identified only by her initials in court records and the documents do not list her age.

The indictment says Sims took her to a hotel in Carthage, another small town a short drive north of Walnut Grove, on or about Nov. 26, 2009. In March 2010, he was secretly recorded in telephone conversations telling the prisoner “to lie to investigators.”

Prosecutors say Sims eventually admitted to the FBI that he had sex with the woman.

State Auditor Stacey Pickering demanded in October 2011 that Sims pay more than $31,500 for using city employees and city equipment to work on private prisons in Walnut Grove and for using city equipment on personal property.

Sims has not paid the money, according to Pickering’s spokeswoman, Lisa Shoemaker.

The private prison industry is big business in Walnut Grove. Another prison there, the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility is one of the town’s biggest employers. It is run by GEO Group of Boca Raton, Fla., the nation’s second largest private prison company.

The people of Walnut Grove, a town of about 1900 residents an hour northeast of Jackson, picked a replacement for Sims in a special election in March. Brian Gommillon, a former alderman is the new mayor.

Gommillon didn’t immediately respond to a message. Other officials would rather talk about the good things in town, like the $650,000 library expansion, than the scandal that took down the longtime mayor.

“It was an error that has been corrected and we’re going to go on with the future,” said Dennise Jones-Putnam, Walnut Grove’s elected town clerk.

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