- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A Texas man said Wednesday that he didn’t realize part of the consulting fees he was paying were kickbacks to Mississippi’s then-corrections commissioner until partway through a contract but continued to pay the consultant even after he found out.

Mark Longoria, the 53-year-old CEO of Houston-based Drug Testing Corp., waived indictment and pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiracy.

Also Wednesday, 54-year-old Teresa Malone of Carthage pleaded not guilty to an indictment charging her with bribing then-Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps using the proceeds of a separate consulting contract with an Illinois-based prison health care monitor.

Nine people have been charged in a bribery scheme centering on Epps and the consultant, Brandon businessman Cecil McCrory. Federal prosecutors have said charges could be coming against eight more people.

Longoria admitted to Wingate that he paid nearly $230,000 to Investigative Resources, McCrory’s company, as commission on $782,000 in drug testing cups that Longoria’s company sold to the Mississippi Department of Corrections in 2013 and 2014. Longoria said it was well-known that McCrory had a special connection to Epps that helped deliver business to prison contractors.

“I assumed that if we were going to get the business in Mississippi, I had to use Investigative Resources, Cecil McCrory,” Longoria told Wingate. He said he discussed bid specifications with McCrory that ruled out cheaper Chinese-made cups, keeping those competitors from underbidding Drug Testing Corp., in conversations investigators recorded.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca said McCrory, a former state legislator, paid $60,000 to Epps out of the $230,000 in commissions. Longoria said that during a phone conversation with McCrory near the end of the yearlong contract with Mississippi, McCrory referred to commissions for himself and Epps.

“That’s when I put two and two together,” Longoria said, adding that he “regrettably” didn’t object to the kickback.

Wingate said he plans to sentence Longoria on Oct. 13 and allowed him to return to Texas on $10,000 unsecured bail. Longoria faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Prosecutors also want him to forfeit $131,000.

An indictment alleges Epps steered a $5,000-a-month consulting contract with Illinois-based AdminPros to Malone and that she paid Epps $1,000 to $1,750 “regularly” over almost four years. AdminPros was monitoring prison health care and trying to get Medicaid to pay for some inmate hospital stays. U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Ball set an Oct. 3 trial, but defense lawyers told Ball they would seek a delay. Malone was released on $10,000 unsecured bail.

“She pled not guilty today,” said Bill Wheeler, one of Malone’s lawyers. “She hasn’t done anything wrong.”

Malone is the wife of former state Rep. Bennett Malone, D-Carthage, then-chairman of the state House Corrections Committee. Wheeler said Bennett Malone, who retired in 2015, is suffering from dementia and other ailments.

Epps and McCrory pleaded guilty in February 2015. Epps faces up to 23 years in prison for money laundering and filing false tax returns related to $1.47 million in bribes that prosecutors say he took. He’s also forfeiting $1.7 million in assets. McCrory’s sentence for money laundering conspiracy could be up to 20 years in prison. He’s also forfeiting $1.7 million in assets. Their sentencing has been delayed.

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Follow Jeff Amy at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy. Read his work at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy

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