- Associated Press - Sunday, November 23, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Leake County Sheriff Greg Waggoner says he touched off the investigation which cost former corrections commissioner Chris Epps his job, after Epps allegedly stopped an internal investigation of a warden who eventually went to prison.

Waggoner told The Clarion-Ledger (https://on.thec-l.com/1FgJIGB ) he called U.S. Attorney John Dowdy for advice after a Mississippi Department of Corrections investigator told him in 2009 that the case against Walnut Grove Transition Center warden Grady Sims was being closed.

Waggoner and a department investigator were looking into an allegation that Sims, who also was Walnut Grove’s mayor, had taken a female inmate to a motel for sex in November 2009.

Investigators from both agencies were preparing to bring evidence to the district attorney in spring 2010 when the MDOC investigator told him the investigation was over, Waggoner said.

“‘We’re closing the case down,’” Waggoner recalled him saying. “I was shocked. I said, ‘What do you mean?’ You could tell he wasn’t happy about it but that he was given orders.”

After the investigator left, he said, he called Dowdy. The U.S. attorney confirmed the call, telling the newspaper he reported Waggoner’s concerns to the FBI.

Epps’ attorney, John Colette, said he understands that the department completed its investigation and asked for Sims’ dismissal.

“The investigation found wrongdoing, and they requested of the contractor that the person be terminated. The investigation should be on file,” Collette said.

The Clarion-Ledger, which interviewed Waggoner on Thursday, published the interview on Sunday, saying it had not been able to immediately verify whether the investigation was completed.

Waggoner said indictment decisions, not firing people, complete felony investigations.

“If you have knowledge of a felony and chose not to pursue it,” he said, “you’re negligent in your duty.”

A federal grand jury charged Sims with sexually assaulting a female inmate and intimidating a witness by telling the inmate to lie to investigators. He pleaded guilty in 2012 to witness intimidation and was sentenced to seven months in prison.

By then, investigators were looking into an alleged kickback scheme between Epps and Rankin County businessman Cecil McCrory. A federal indictment was unsealed this month, accusing Epps of taking roughly $1 million in exchange for steering nearly $1 billion in contracts to businesses in which McCrory was involved. Total maximum penalties add up to more than 200 years each.

Both have pleaded not guilty.

Waggoner said more than once Thursday that the investigation hasn’t ended. He wouldn’t elaborate, but leaned over his desk and cracked a slight, sly smile.

“I don’t think it’s over,” he finally said. “I don’t think the corruption stopped there.”

___

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


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