Crist orders inquiry into prison contract payments

Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 12:02 a.m.

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Wednesday to conduct a preliminary investigation into more than $4.5 million in alleged overpayments to two companies that operate private prisons for the state.

The contracts with GEO Group of Boca Raton and Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America were signed by the now-defunct Correctional Privatization Commission.

Crist sent a letter to FDLE Commissioner Gerald M. Bailey directing him to "conduct a preliminary investigation to determine whether any criminal violations have occurred."

The Department of Management Services, which inherited the contracts, recently reached a $402,501 settlement with GEO but is still negotiating with CCA.

Management Services Secretary Linda South, in a statement Friday, blamed the excessive payments on concessions the commission had included in the contracts. The commission was abolished by the Legislature in 2004.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink said Wednesday that she asked her staff what went wrong and received the same answer.

"The contract was so poorly written and so poorly conceived that we were only able to verify $400,000 in overpayments even though we know there were huge abuses through the auditing procedures," Sink said. "We had virtually no legal standing to go back and get back from the taxpayers the dollars that we deserved."

Audits concluded the state paid for vacant jobs and other questionable expenses.

Telephone messages left at the offices of the two companies after hours Wednesday were not immediately returned.

GEO runs the Moore Haven and Southbay correctional facilities and has a contract to run a new one at Graceville.

CCA operates correctional facilities in Lake City, Panama City and Quincy.

State Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, who is not related to the governor, last week urged FDLE to investigate the relationship between the commission and contractors.

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