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AFGE union joins foes of nominee for marshals post

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The nation's largest federal employees union is railing against President Obama's choice to lead the U.S. Marshals Service, saying Justice Department veteran Stacia Hylton's recent six-figure consulting deal with a private prison company makes her "ill-suited" for the job.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which backed Mr. Obama throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, told the Senate Judiciary Committee in a letter this week that Ms. Hylton's ties to the GEO Group "pose a serious conflict of interest that should preclude her nomination."

The letter was signed by John Gage, president of the 600,000-member national union, which represents government employees at nearly every federal agency, including the Marshals Service. A copy of the letter was obtained Thursday by The Washington Times, which first reported in October on Ms. Hylton's work with the GEO Group.

The union, like at least nine other criminal justice and watchdog groups now opposing the nomination, is upset that Ms. Hylton accepted $112,500 in consulting fees from the GEO Group shortly after resigning as the federal detention trustee at Justice in February and before her recent nomination as the U.S. Marshal. The Office of Federal Detention manages and regulates the federal detention programs and the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System.

"While the public record does not disclose the extent to which the $112,500 consulting job with the GEO Group was discussed prior to Ms. Hylton's retirement, we believe this creates a clear conflict of interest," Mr. Gage wrote.

Records filed with the state of Virginia show that Ms. Hylton's consulting firm, Hylton Kirk & Associates, was formed in January 2010, a month before she retired from the federal government.

In remarks to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Ms. Hylton said she abided by all of the government's ethics rules. She said while paperwork forming her company was filed in January, the firm didn't become active until after she retired.

She described her work with the GEO Group as "consulting services on acquisitions, detention/prison expertise and federal relations," according to a government ethics filing she filled out after her nomination as U.S. Marshal. In addition to the $112,500 in fees, Ms. Hylton also said that pursuant to a contractual agreement, she would receive funds from the GEO Group prior to joining the government as U.S. Marshal, but not afterward.

According to the union, the GEO Group was awarded several contracts by the Office of Federal Detention Trustee when Ms. Hylton was in charge, including 10-year, sole-source contract in San Diego generating about $34 million in revenue.

But in her testimony, Ms. Hylton said contracting decisions were handled by others in the federal detention office and that she recused herself from conversations about the private prison industry.

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.

The Marshals Service - which is responsible for, among other things, housing and transporting federal prisoners from the time they are brought into custody until they are either acquitted or incarcerated - is a significant source of revenue for the GEO Group.

In a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the company noted that about 13 percent of its consolidated revenues for the fiscal year that ended Jan. 3 came from the U.S. Marshals Service. The company reported consolidated revenues for the year of $1.1 billion.

One of the key organizers in the coalition of groups opposing the Hylton nomination, Prison Legal News, campaigned against one of President George W. Bush's judicial nominees, Gus Puryear, over his ties to another prison giant, Corrections Corp. of America. That nomination ultimately was dropped.

But Ms. Hylton also has key supporters, and several senators at her nomination hearing lauded her experience. She also received a letter of support from Sen. Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat.

In addition, group supporting her nomination include the 26,000-member Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and the National Sheriffs' Association, which cited her three decades in law enforcement and years as a deputy U.S. marshal and inspector with the Witness Security Program.

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