Marshals Service nominee may have a client conflict

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Between leaving her post as federal detention trustee and her recent nomination as the next U.S. marshal, Justice Department veteran Stacia Hylton got a consulting contract with one of the largest private correctional companies in the country, records show.

The arrangement with the Florida-based GEO Group Inc., which has carried out tens of millions of dollars in contracts for the U.S. Marshals Service, was disclosed in a recent financial report obtained by The Washington Times through the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.

One prominent prison industry observer said the ties raise concerns about conflicts of interest.

“The massive conflicts of interest with Ms. Hylton having been employed by GEO Group typify the revolving door of corporate lobbyists and government employees that President Obama promised to end if elected,” said Paul Wright, editor and co-founder of Prison Legal News, which covers the prison industry.

Mr. Wright said he was concerned that Ms. Hylton would “be in a position to further reward the GEO Group with taxpayer money and little accountability or oversight.”

“The real and apparent conflict of interest is as massive as it is obvious,” he said.

While Ms. Hylton is not a registered lobbyist, the publicly traded GEO Group, which did not respond to messages seeking comment, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying Congress and the Justice Department on prison and budget issues in recent years.

Under Mr. Obama’s ethics rules, appointees are prohibited for two years from working on specific matters involving recent clients unless they obtain special waivers. So far, more than two dozen high-level appointees have been given full or partial waivers from the ethics rules.

Ms. Hylton could not be reached for comment, and the U.S. Marshals Service and the Justice Department did not respond to messages about her nomination. A White House official reached on the matter Monday said Ms. Hylton would not require a waiver.

“After review, it was determined that Ms. Hylton did not need a waiver for her consulting client, the GEO Group, as 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. The GEO Group is listed as the only client on Ms. Hylton’s financial disclosure form, though government ethics rules require nominees to report only clients who pay at least $5,000.

She listed $112,500 in income from her company through “consulting services for detention matters, federal relations and acquisitions and mergers” from March through July of this year.

But Ms. Hylton also noted that pursuant to a contract, she will receive funds from the GEO Group for services sometime prior to joining the government.

Contracts with the Marshals Service generate an important source of revenue for the GEO Group. During an earnings conference call earlier this year, GEO Chairman and Chief Executive Officer George Zoley noted that among federal contracts, “the primary driver for growth continues to be the incarceration of criminal aliens” with the U.S. marshals and federal Bureau of Prisons housing aliens facing criminal charges or those serving time as a result of a conviction.

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