President Obama's nominee for U.S. marshal responded to mounting criticism Wednesday over her financial ties to a private prison company that does tens of millions of dollars in work for the U.S. government, telling a Senate panel that federal ethics officials cleared her recent consulting work for corrections giant Geo Group.
"I did follow all ethics requirements and regulations, and worked closely with the ethics office," Stacia A. Hylton told the Senate Judiciary Committee at her confirmation hearing.
After she retired as federal detention trustee earlier this year, Ms. Hylton took a consulting contract with the GEO Group that was worth at least $112,500, The Washington Times first reported in October.
The revelation prompted a coalition of nine criminal justice and watchdog organizations to oppose Ms. Hylton's nomination. They argued that her work for a prison company that has held tens of millions of dollars in contracts with the U.S. Marshals Service poses a massive conflict of interest.
The groups told the Judiciary Committee in a joint letter that as federal detention trustee from 2004 to February 2010, Ms. Hylton developed close relationships with private prison companies and that at least three contracts were approved during her tenure for the GEO Group, the nation's second-largest private prison company.
"Clearly, she wasted no time in securing lucrative consulting work from the very industry that she oversaw as detention trustee and will be overseeing again should she be appointed," the groups wrote.
The organizations opposing the nomination are the Alliance for Justice, the National Lawyers Guild, Detention Watch Network, Grassroots Leadership, Human Rights Defense Center, International CURE, Justice Police Institute, Public Citizen and the Private Corrections Working Group.
In her first public remarks on the criticism Wednesday, Ms. Hylton said she had no direct involvement in contract awards as trustee. She also said she incorporated the consulting business before leaving federal service, but that it remained dormant until after she left the government.
"I incorporated the consulting business about a month before I retired just simply so I could begin the paperwork and begin to set up the office," she said, responding to questions about her consulting from Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat.
Ms. Hylton also said she had recused herself from conversations about the private prison industry.
"My focus was in the best interests of the government," she said.
Last month, a White House official said Ms. Hylton would not require a waiver from Mr. Obama's ethics rules, which bar appointees for two years from working on matters involving recent clients. So far, more than two dozen high-level appointees have been given full or partial waivers.
"After review, it was determined ... she could easily be recused from participating in particular matters in which that client was a party," said the official. "This recusal, along with the Obama administration's ethics pledge and other ethics restrictions, will ensure that she can serve ably and effectively as director of the U.S. Marshals Service."
Ms. Hylton wasn't working as an employee of the company, but provided services to GEO Group through her consulting company, Virginia-based Hylton Kirk & Associates.
GEO Group was the only client listed on her financial-disclosure form, for whom she said she did "consulting services for detention matters, federal relations and acquisitions and mergers" from March through July of this year.
Marshals Service contracts generate an important source of revenue for the GEO Group, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
Among the groups supporting Ms. Hylton's nomination are the 26,000-member Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which cited her "demonstrated leadership capabilities" in a letter to the Judiciary Committee. The National Sheriffs' Association also backed the nomination, citing Ms. Hylton's three decades in law enforcement and her "distinguished and extensive career."
"Serving as both a deputy U.S. marshal and an inspector within the Witness Security Program, this critical experience expands upon Ms. Hylton's thorough and well-rounded knowledge of the agency, enabling her to effectively and successfully lead the U.S. Marshals Service," the sheriffs' group wrote in a letter to the Senate.
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