- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A man charged with bribing former Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps plans to plead guilty, his attorney said Tuesday.

K.C. Hightower said Robert Simmons intends to waive indictment on a criminal charge when he appears in federal court Thursday in Gulfport. The charge, filed last week, also accuses Simmons of bribing an unnamed Harrison County supervisor.

Prosecutors allege Simmons kicked back part of his consulting fees on three separate contracts to Epps.

The charge says Simmons bribed a supervisor in exchange for help securing a Harrison County jail medical contract for Jackson-based Health Assurance. Former Supervisor William Martin killed himself last year hours before he was due in federal court on bribery charges.

Hightower declined comment when asked if Simmons bribed Martin.

The criminal charge says Simmons began bribing Epps in July 2012 when consulting for Sentinel Offender Services of Irvine, California, which supervises probationers and parolees. Prosecutors say Simmons was paying Epps $1,400 a month of his $4,000-a-month consulting fee. Prosecutors say Simmons, who lives in Harrison County, deposited money directly into Epps’ accounts by visiting bank branches in coastal Mississippi.

Prosecutors say Simmons also paid Epps a portion of a $10,000-a-month consulting fee he got from AJA Management and Technical Services of Jackson, which managed construction of expansions at Walnut Grove Correctional Facility and East Mississippi Correctional Facility. The criminal charge says Simmons also kicked back a portion of a fee from another unnamed company that was doing work on Walnut Grove and East Mississippi.

While the criminal charge doesn’t specifically name Martin, Simmons is alleged to have bribed the unnamed supervisor beginning in 2005. That lines up with the time bribes are alleged to have begun in the indictment against Martin that was returned in February 2015.

Epps pleaded guilty in February to two felony bribery counts, with prosecutors saying he collected $1.47 million in bribes.

Epps is scheduled to be sentenced April 11. He faces up to 23 years in prison and has agreed to forfeit $1.7 million in cash and assets. Two other men who have pleaded guilty to bribing Epps also await sentencing, and a third man indicted on bribery charges awaits an April 4 trial.

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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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