Mississippi jail bribery probe now reaches into Alabama

AP News
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Posted: Feb 23, 2017 7:17 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — An Alabama consultant has admitted to lying to FBI agents about a health care contract at a county jail in Alabama, signaling that a Mississippi prison bribery probe has spilled across state lines.

Michael P. Goddard of Vestavia Hills, Alabama, admitted in a plea agreement filed Tuesday in federal court that he received money from Mississippi-based Health Assurance in connection with a contract that the company had from 2007 to 2011 to care for inmates at the Jefferson County Jail in Birmingham.

Health Assurance has been a focus of scrutiny concerning bribes paid to former Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps and others.

Goddard is scheduled to appear on March 16 in federal court in Birmingham, when he could waive indictment and plead guilty to the criminal charge. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, although federal prosecutors agreed to recommend a lighter sentence.

The plea agreement states that Goddard lied to FBI agents in an August interview, saying monthly payments he received weren't related to Health Assurance.

"The defendant knew this statement was false," the plea states.

Jefferson County Chief Sheriff's Deputy Randy Christian said the sheriff's office had no contact with Goddard over the contract and said the FBI has not questioned Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale or other officials. Goddard's lawyer didn't respond to a phone call and email seeking comment.

In 2011, Health Assurance lost the $4 million-a-year contract. The company sued, claiming the Illinois firm that won the bid, Advanced Correctional Healthcare, had an unjust advantage by basing its bid on proprietary Health Assurance information the competitor got from Hale's office. A federal magistrate judge ruled against Health Assurance, saying there was no evidence that the information was a trade secret, or that ACH used the information improperly. Christian said Hale picked ACH because it was less expensive and Jefferson County was bankrupt at the time.

Dr. Carl Reddix, whom prosecutors have described as a co-owner of Health Assurance, was indicted in July in Mississippi on six counts of bribery and one count of conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud. Prosecutors say Reddix passed cash bribes to Epps from 2012 to 2014 in exchange for health care contracts at four privately run Mississippi state prisons. The indictment says the bribes started at $6,000 a month, eventually rising as high as $9,500 a month.

Reddix has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for trial May 22. His lawyer told reporters in July that Reddix was a "victim of a shakedown" by Epps. The lawyer didn't immediately respond to a phone call and email seeking comment Thursday.

Epps has pleaded guilty to charges related to taking nearly $1.5 million in bribes. Five others have also pleaded guilty in Mississippi, including consultant Robert Simmons. He pleaded guilty to passing bribes on behalf of Health Assurance to a county supervisor in exchange for a jail medical contract in Mississippi's Harrison County. Hours before he was due in federal court on bribery charges in 2015, Harrison County Supervisor William Martin killed himself.

Health Assurance and another Reddix-related company have done business with at least six other Mississippi counties and one other Alabama county.

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