Questionable prison payments state's fault, agency chief says


Published: Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 12:56 a.m.
TALLAHASSEE - More than $4.5 million in questionable payments to two companies that run five private prisons, including one in Lake City, resulted from the state's contract concessions, not overcharges by the firms, a top state official said Friday.
Department of Management Services Secretary Linda South blamed the concessions on the state's now-defunct Correctional Privatization Commission after a Florida Senate leader asked for an investigation of her agency's settlement with one of the companies.
The department, which inherited the contracts from the commission, disclosed earlier this week that GEO Group of Boca Raton would pay the state $402,501.
An audit indicated the state had paid GEO and Nashville-Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America more than $4.5 million for vacant jobs and other questionable expenses.
''When GEO cashed those checks, they were not cashing overpayments, they were cashing checks that were made under terms of the contract,'' South said in a statement.
Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee Chairman Victor Crist, R-Tampa, asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate during the panel's meeting Thursday.
Crist called the settlement with GEO, which runs the Moore Haven and Southbay correctional facilities, unacceptable but said his main focus is an overly cozy relationship that existed between the commission and contractors. The contract was so poorly written the state was lucky to recoup any losses, Crist said.
The company also has a contract to run the new Graceville Correctional Facility, still under construction, said Management Services spokeswoman Tiffany Koenigkramer.
FDLE spokeswoman Kristen Perezluha said she was unsure if her agency would investigate.
No settlement yet has been reached with CCA, which runs three Florida correctional facilities: Lake City, Bay in Panama City and Gadsden in Quincy.
CCA spokesman Steve Owen said he would defer to South's statement and declined further comment because the company still is negotiating with the state.
The GEO settlement calls for the company to refund $290,000 in overpayments and pay more than $110,000 of the state's legal expenses in the lawsuit.
A telephone message left at GEO's offices was not immediately returned.

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