By Othor Cain
Former Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps appeared again in federal court Monday before Judge Henry T. Wingate to learn his fate — what he learned — was that he would have to wait.
Wingate delayed sentencing Epps until July 18 because of bombshells dropped by the prosecution.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca shared in court that his team has discovered nearly 16 additional contracts connected to the MDOC kickback-bribery scandal that took Epps down in 2014.
The new contract discoveries could increase the gross value to $800 million from the initial $300 million the government presented at the onset of indictments against Epps, claiming that he could have possibly tainted them and received substantial monetary payments.
In asking for more time from the courts, LaMarca argued that 15-16 CEOs and other associates connected to the new discoveries would need to be subpoenaed and interviewed. He also said to Wingate that “it was up to the courts to determine the net-value of the contracts and not the gross amounts,” when determining prison time under sentencing guidelines.
John Colette of Jackson, the attorney representing Epps, said prosecuters are planning to recommend a sentence below federal guidelines to Wingate based on Epps’ “substantial” cooperation.
Epps 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 contracts, while providing Epps with kickbacks.
Epps, who originally was indicted on 40 counts of bribery, money laundering, conspiracy and tax charges, plead guilty to two of those charges, which were felony bribery charges. McCrory was originally indicted on 15 counts.
McCrory’s attorney Carlos Tanner, who is based in Jackson, shocked the court when he provided testimony that he would file a motion with the court, asking for a withdrawal of the guilty plea of which McCrory originally pleaded. “My client is factually innocent of what he pleaded guilty to,” Tanner said. “I came aboard in the middle of this case and based on what I’ve seen, I never would have recommended that he plead guilty.”
Tanner called the $800 million “preposterous” and said he was still reviewing more than 70 CDs presented by the state.
Meanwhile, Wingate set a June 9 hearing date for prosecutors to present their new findings to the court. McCrory was set to be sentenced June 9 as well, but Tanner told Wingate new discoveries at the hearing on that date could affect his client’s defense.
As it stands now, Epps could face up to 23 years in prison and a $750,000 fine; McCrory, 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.