Kemper County's sheriff responds to bribery attempts for contracts
"Just doing my job." That's the sheriff in Kemper County's response to his recent partnership with the FBI which has resulted in indictments against four Louisiana businessmen. The four were recently indicted on conspiracy and bribery charges for crimes which Sheriff James Moore says started more than five years ago.
Sheriff Moore says he was first contacted by the Louisiana businessmen in 2012, which was about four years after he was first elected to office.
"They would come to you and try to sweeten the deal to get you to go their way," says Moore. "That's not who I am."
According to the sheriff, the men were with companies that wanted to provide big ticket phone and commissary services for the Kemper/Neshoba Regional Correctional Facility.
"The phone calls never stopped," says Moore. "The visits never stopped. There would be money. There would be trips, ballgames and all expense paid stuff. Whatever it took to get that contract, they were prepared to make that happen."
According to the sheriff, the state's longtime Corrections Commissioner at the time Christopher Epps, who is now in prison, was strongly encouraging the working partnerships.
"Basically he would say, 'I think these are the people you should contract with, and if you don't contract with them, it could affect your numbers,'" says Sheriff Moore.
Sheriff Moore says no physical threats were ever made against him, but fiscal threats were made involving the jail.
"How that works is that you would see your inmate population go down and that affects the amount of money that the state gives you to house your inmates," says Moore. "You would just start seeing state buses coming and removing inmates away."
At one point, Sheriff Moore says state inmate numbers at the Kemper jail dropped for the maximum of almost 400 to less than 280.
In the wake of the new indictments, Sheriff Moore says he was just doing his job.
"I don't know if any other sheriffs fell prey to that, but we didn't. We weathered the storm. I am an elected sheriff and I will not stand by and allow anyone to get me to do things that are unlawful. If that's what it takes to be a sheriff, then I'm in the wrong business," says Moore.
Indicted in the conspiracy case are: Michael LeBlanc, Sr. along with his son Michael LeBlanc, Jr. Tawasky Ventroy and Jacque Jones are also charged. Aside from trying to bribe Kemper County's sheriff, the indictments accuse the men of providing kickbacks to former Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps to secure contracts. Epps is currently in prison serving time for two felony bribery charges.