Coast consultant charged in Epps bribery case

 he Dan M. Russel Federal Courthouse in Gulfport.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD he Dan M. Russel Federal Courthouse in Gulfport. SUN HERALD

GULFPORT -- The U.S. Attorney's Office has charged Coast business consultant Robert Simmons with bribery for allegedly paying thousands in kickbacks from 2005 until 2014 to former state Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps and an unnamed Harrison County supervisor.

Both Epps and former Harrison County Supervisor William Martin have been charged in the corruption case. Epps pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money and filing a false tax return. He is scheduled for sentencing April 11 in Jackson before U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate.

Martin, a longtime state prosecutor before he was elected supervisor, committed suicide almost a year ago -- hours before he was due in federal court to answer charges of accepting bribes.

Simmons is accused of taking hefty consulting fees from companies doing business with the Mississippi Department of Corrections or Harrison County, then paying a portion as kickbacks to Epps or a Harrison County supervisor. The time frame in the charge filed against Simmons dovetails those in Martin's case.

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Specifically, a detailed account of the charge filed in U.S. District Court says:

-- Sentinel Offender Services, awarded a contract to monitor inmates on probation or parole, paid Simmons a consulting fee of $4,000 a month beginning in July 2012. Each month, Simmons visited various Coast bank branches to deposit $1,400 directly into Epps' bank account. The consulting fee was essentially split with Epps after Simmons set aside 30 percent for taxes.

-- AJA Management and Technical Services, which had a construction-management contract with the MDOC, paid Simmons $10,000 a month for 18 months. An unstated portion of the fee was paid each month to Epps.

-- An unnamed company working on the East Mississippi and Walnut Grove correctional facilities paid Simmons an unspecified monthly consulting fee for 10 months. Simmons paid Epps an unspecified amount on 20 occasions during that time.

-- Health Assurance LLC, which had a contract to provide medical services at the Harrison County jail, paid Simmons a consulting fee that climbed to $10,000 a month before the 2005-11 contract ended. "Throughout this period of time," according to the charge, "Simmons made payments in the amount of $2,000 a month to a Harrison County supervisor for assistance provided in securing the contract . . . "

The federal courthouse was closed Monday for President's Day. The electronic court file did not indicate when Simmons would be answering the charges in court. Simmons could not be reached to comment.

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