JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A physician indicted Wednesday on federal charges for an alleged role in a Mississippi prison bribery scandal fell victim to a "shakedown" by the state's former corrections commissioner, the doctor's attorney said.
Federal prosecutors unsealed a July 13 indictment charging Dr. Carl Reddix with six counts of bribery and one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud. Prosecutors said the 57-year-old physician from Jackson, the capital city, had paid cash bribes to former Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps to secure medical contracts at state prisons.
Reddix pleaded not guilty during a Wednesday afternoon appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Ball and was released on $10,000 unsecured bail. Reddix faces up to 80 years in prison and $1.75 million in fines if convicted.
Lisa Ross, Reddix's attorney, did not deny accusations that Reddix gave Epps money.
"It's our position that Dr. Reddix is a victim of a shakedown," Ross told reporters after the court hearing. "Chris Epps shook him down and we believe when we review all the evidence in this case, the evidence will show that."
Ross said she plans to request a delay of the Oct. 3 trial date.
The indictment stated that Reddix began paying Epps $6,000 in cash monthly in 2012, an amount that rose to $8,000 per month in 2013 after Health Assurance gained an additional contract to provide care at a correctional complex in Mississippi's Wilkinson County. The amounts rose to $9,000 in August and September 2014, concluding with $9,500 in October 2014, according to court documents.
The company eventually was providing health care at four privately-run state prisons, and prosecutors said the contracts at the four prisons were worth $29 million overall.
Corporate records show Reddix was one of the leaders of Health Assurance, a company that provides medical care to state prisons and county jails, until 2015. The indictment describes him as an owner.
Records maintained by the Mississippi Center for Public Policy show Health Assurance show has collected more than $40 million from the state since 2003 and more than $22 million from six Mississippi counties since 2004.
Epps and a businessman, Cecil McCrory, pleaded guilty in February 2015 to charges connected to the bribery scheme, which cast a harsh light on Mississippi politics and its prison system.
Epps faces up to 23 years on charges of money laundering and filing false tax returns related to $1.47 million in bribes that prosecutors said he took. He's forfeiting $1.7 million in assets. McCrory, a former state House member, pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering conspiracy and faces up to 20 years at sentencing. He's forfeiting $1.7 million in assets. Their sentencing has been delayed.
Separately, a former prison phone communications consultant has pleaded guilty to bribing Epps and faces delayed sentencing.
Federal prosecutors have said as many as 11 others could face criminal charges in the prison contract bribery scheme. Assistant U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca said this week that prosecutors will announce some of those charged on Monday.
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