By Emily Le Coz
JACKSON Miss. (Reuters) - Mississippi's former prisons chief was due in court on Thursday in Jackson to be arraigned on federal charges that he accepted cash and mortgage payments in exchange for awarding prison contracts to companies tied to a local businessman, federal prosecutors said.
Christopher Epps, who abruptly resigned as commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections on Wednesday, was indicted by a grand jury in August on charges that he and co-defendant Cecil McCrory were involved in a kickback scheme that started in 2007.
The 49-count indictment was unsealed on Thursday.
According to the indictment, McCrory paid off the mortgage on Epps' home, totaling more than $350,000, made monthly payments of cash to Epps that the latter stored in a safe in his home and made mortgage payments on Epps' condominium.
In exchange, the indictment said, Epps steered contracts to companies owned by McCrory and others for which the businessman served as a consultant.
In one case, the two split a $12,000 monthly consulting fee McCrory received from a company that Epps had awarded a contract, the indictment said.
Prosecutors have moved to seize from Epps his home, a condominium and two Mercedes-Benz sedans.
Epps, who had served as commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections since 2002, is a national figure in prison administration circles, serving as president of both the American Correctional Association and the Association of State Correctional Administrators.
His name had been removed from both groups' websites as of Wednesday evening.
McCrory, who had served as president of the Rankin County School Board, resigned that post on Wednesday.
Neither Epps nor McCrory immediately responded to messages seeking comment.
(Writing by Jonathan Kaminsky; editing by Andrew Hay)