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Former Corrections Commissioner Sentenced to Nearly 20 Years Behind Bars
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Chris Epps (front left) with lawyers outside federal court, April 2016
Desare Frazier

A former Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner will spend nearly 20 years behind bars. A federal judge called the case the largest bribery scheme he's come across.

Federal prosecutors say for five years, former state department of corrections commissioner Chris Epps operated a scheme to obtain kickbacks in exchange for contracts. In 2015 he pleaded guilty to taking more than $1.4 million in bribes. Wednesday, in federal court, an FBI agent testified that Epps cooperated fully with authorities in exposing the bribery schemes, which have led to numerous prosecutions. John Collette is Epps' attorney.

"He hadn't hidden anything. He hadn't told them about these contracts but not these contracts. I mean I've got the list of the times and it's thousands of man hours. I never heard an FBI agent say out of 1 to 10. He was a 10.

Judge Henry Wingate mentioned Epps achievements including the longest serving commissioner in the state under four governors and working his way up from corrections officer to the top job. He said he took those contributions and others into consideration. Wingate said he could have considered the prosecution's recommended 13 year sentence. But the judge said more time is warranted, because Epps stole lights from a home last fall he forfeited to the government, while out on a $25,000 bond. Matt Steffey is Professor of law at Mississippi College School of Law.

"And that's common for a judge to pay particular attention to what a defendant does out on bond awaiting trial or awaiting sentencing, because that's when you might reasonably expect a person to be on their best behavior," said Steffey.

Epps told the judge he's made some stupid mistakes he'll regret for the rest of his life. Wingate sentenced him to 19 1/2 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.