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Ex-broker gets 6 months in prison for paying prison chief

July 10, 2018

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced a former insurance broker to six months in prison for helping former Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps evade taxes.

In handing down the sentence, U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate ignored recommendations that could have kept Guy “Butch” Evans out of prison entirely.

Evans was also sentenced to three years of probation and 400 hours of community service and fined $5,000.

Evans pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting tax evasion in April in relation to $19,200 he paid to Epps. Wingate, though, noted Evans could have faced much higher penalties. Evans was originally indicted on charges of conspiracy and bribery, which carried a possible prison sentence of up to 30 years. Evans’ lawyers negotiated a plea to the lesser crime, which carried a maximum sentence of five years.

The Jackson resident sold supplemental insurance policies to prison system employees. He has said a Department of Corrections committee awarded the contract to him fair and square in 2012. But Epps, whom Evans knew previously, told him in January 2013 that “My friends are taking care of me. I want you to know that. And I expect you to take care of me.”

Evans’ guilty plea involved $19,200 in cash that Evans gave Epps in 2013. But both sides agreed Tuesday that Evans paid Epps around $36,000, once payments from 2014 were included.

Evans made $323,000 in commissions from insurance sales to corrections employees between early 2013 and late 2015. Evans said he feared Epps would revoke his authority to sell insurance.

“I come here today with my hat in my hand, very humble. I accept that I’ve done wrong,” Evans told Wingate on Tuesday.

Federal sentencing guidelines suggested a maximum sentence of six months, but didn’t require Wingate to send Evans to prison. Lawyer Charles Griffin suggested Wingate sentence Evans to probation, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Helen Wall said prosecutors recommended something between probation and six weeks in prison.

Beyond the federal sentence, a settlement signed with Attorney General Jim Hood’s office shows Evans paid $100,000 to the state in June to cover any civil claims related to his conduct.

Evans was the latest person to be sentenced in a wide-ranging scheme of bribery and corruption under Epps, who led the Mississippi prison system for a dozen years under three governors. Epps resigned in November 2014, hours before federal authorities announced his indictment.

Epps acknowledged accepting more than $1.4 million in bribes from private contractors and pleaded guilty in 2015. He is serving a nearly 20-year sentence. In addition to Evans, eight other people have been convicted.

Of those, only Teresa Malone remains to be sentenced. Malone, the wife of a former legislator, pleaded guilty to paying kickbacks to Epps after he steered a consulting contract to her. She pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy and bribery. However, her sentencing remains on indefinite hold because of medical complications from a lung transplant.

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Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy . Read his work at https://www.apnews.com/search/By%20Jeff%20Amy .

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