Chris Epps rose through the ranks from prison guard to become the longest serving corrections commissioner in Mississippi’s history. It was said he could sell ice to Eskimos and for years had lawmakers and governors eating out of his hand with his folksy, straight-shooting style and deep knowledge of the state prison system he ran, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports. Yesterday, a shackled Epps with graying hair, looking nothing like the man who wore expensive suits and drove a Mercedes, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate to just shy of 20 years in prison and a $100,000 fine for running one of the largest and longest criminal conspiracies in the state’s history.
Epps, 56, who had overseen the incarceration of thousands of inmates in his 12 years as corrections commissioner, will now become a prisoner himself. His fall from grace began in 2014 when a 49-count federal indictment accused him of taking at least $1.4 million in bribes and kickbacks to steer more than $800 million worth of state prison contracts. Epps pleaded guilty in February 2015 to bribery and filing a false income tax return. “This is not a simple crime,” Wingate said. “This is the largest graft operation in the state of Mississippi, definitely the largest I have seen. Mr. Epps betrayed the state of Mississippi.” Epps said, “It comes back to greed. I made some stupid mistakes I will regret for the rest of my life.”