- Associated Press - Thursday, January 19, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A businessman who had contracts with the Mississippi prison system was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison in a bribery scheme involving the state’s former corrections commissioner.

The Clarion-Ledger reports (http://on.thec-l.com/2k5Yf2X ) U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate handed down the sentence to Sam Waggoner, 62, of Carthage, which also included two years of supervised release.

Waggoner admitted to giving then-Commissioner Christopher Epps a portion of the money he earned as a prison telephone contractor. Waggoner told federal agents that before their investigation started, he wrote to Epps saying he wanted to end the payments.

“I don’t want the FBI knocking on my door in the middle of the night,” Waggoner told Wingate he wrote in the letter.

Epps ripped the letter into “teeny, tiny pieces,” flushed it down a toilet and told him their arrangement would continue, Waggoner said.

“He was basically my boss,” Waggoner said. “He could hurt my business.”

Wingate saw Waggoner’s attempt to end his involvement in the scheme as the result of a mix between remorse and fear of being investigated. The five-year sentence, recommended by prosecutors, was the compromise.

The FBI charged Waggoner with one count of bribery related to his payments of bribes and kickbacks to Epps from sometime in 2012 until at least Aug. 26, 2014.

Waggoner worked as a consultant for Global Tel-Link, which provided telephone services at state prison facilities. Waggoner received 5 percent of the revenue as a consultant.

He acknowledged he “corruptly gave” kickbacks twice in 2014 with the intent to influence Epps.

Waggoner entered a guilty plea in August 2015 and agreed to forfeit $200,000 in cash. By statute, the charges carried a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

Epps awaits sentencing after pleading guilty in February 2015 to money laundering and filing false tax returns in a wide-ranging bribery scheme.

Epps is set to appear in May. In December, Wingate rejected Epps‘ plea to release him from jail until then. The judge revoked Epps‘ bail on Nov. 4 after the former corrections commissioner was charged with stealing outdoor lights and a control box from the house he forfeited to the federal government.

He faces up to 23 years in prison and has forfeited $1.7 million in assets.

Others embroiled in Epps‘ scheme include businessman Cecil McCrory; former state Sen. Irb Benjamin of Madison; Teresa Malone, the wife of a former state representative; Texas businessman Mark Longoria; Dr. Carl Reddix; business and government consultant Robert Simmons; and former MDOC insurance broker Guy E. Butch Evans.

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com

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