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Ex-chief of prisons pleads guilty

Jimmy Crosby, who admitted taking kickbacks from a prison snack vendor, faces a maximum sentence of 10 years.

By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published July 12, 2006


JACKSONVILLE - Former Corrections Secretary Jimmy Crosby spent three decades keeping watch over criminals in state prisons. In a hushed federal courtroom Tuesday, Crosby admitted he became a criminal, too, and faces prison time as a result.

Crosby pleaded guilty to a felony charge of taking kickbacks from a prison snack vendor and was released on $50,000 bond. Prosecutors said Crosby and Allen Clark, his friend, protege and former regional prison director, split $130,000 in cash payments over two years, though court documents do not say how much money each man received.

A remorseful Crosby took full responsibility for his actions, but said he has an alcohol abuse problem and is getting medical help for it. His attorney, Steve Andrews, said he hoped Crosby could get a shorter prison sentence by agreeing to enter an alcohol treatment program under federal court supervision.

"I apologize to everyone. What I did was wrong," Crosby said afterward in an interview. "I wish I could take it back."

Fighting back tears at one point, Crosby said critics should not fault Gov. Jeb Bush for supporting him during a yearlong federal-state investigation.

"If Gov. Bush has a fault, it's that he always wants to think the best of a person. And I absolutely misled Gov. Bush," Crosby said.

Crosby faces a maximum sentence of 10 years and a $250,000 fine, must reimburse the federal government $130,000 and cooperate in an ongoing investigation of the prison system.

He also stands to lose his $66,000 annual pension and a lump-sum retirement payment of an estimated $215,000.

"I'm the poorest guy in the room. Anybody want to bet on it?" Crosby said as he filled out paperwork at the end of the hearing.

Crosby's guilty plea marks the downfall of a man who worked his way up from classification officer to director of the nation's third-largest prison system, with 27,000 employees and nearly 90,000 inmates.

But he could not resist the temptation of the fast life in Tallahassee. He socialized with vendors and their lobbyists and accepted piles of illicit cash, though he said he felt pangs of guilt "every time there was a delivery."

Crosby, 53, was surrounded by four TV cameras as he walked into the federal courthouse in downtown Jacksonville, the same courthouse where Clark entered a guilty plea last week. He wore a dark grey pinstriped suit and a dour expression.

Standing before U.S. Magistrate Marcia Morales Howard, and flanked by his two lawyers, Crosby repeatedly answered "Yes, Ma'am," and "Yes, Your Honor," when asked if he understood the charges against him and the gravity of pleading guilty to a felony.

The judge released Crosby on a signature bond, which means he does not have to post any money or property but is liable for the full $50,000 if he flees. He cannot leave the state of Florida, must surrender his passport, stay in regular contact with the court, and refrain from excessive drinking.

Crosby also is prohibited from using firearms. He told the judge that he is staying with his parents at their farm in Starke and that there's a shotgun in the house.

"They have a firearm that they shoot snakes with," Crosby told the judge. "I don't have any."

State Sen. Nancy Argenziano, R-Dunnellon, whose district includes 10 state prisons and thousands of prison workers, said the Crosby case underscores a lack of accountability in privatization of state programs. A private firm, Keefe Commissary Network, hired another company to run the prison snack business that bribed Crosby and Clark.

"I think people should have a big question mark about outsourcing," Argenziano said.

As for Crosby, she said: "He was on top of the world. What was he thinking?"

But if Crosby's criminal behavior shocked some, others saw it coming for a long time.

One of Crosby's most persistent critics, Kay Lee, runs a Web site from her Atlanta home that is known as MTWT, or Making the Walls Transparent. Crosby repeatedly dismissed Lee's online criticism as rumor-mongering.

But with uncanny prescience, Lee posted a piece on her Web site in September 2005 that fairly accurately foreshadowed Crosby's demise. "According to my informants," Kay Lee wrote, "Crosby and several of his soldiers have been getting kickbacks. ... My informants say we will have a hard time proving it although there is one time when Crosby slipped."

Lee went on to name Eddie Dugger, the Gainesville businessman whose snack business is said to have funneled the bribe money to Crosby and Clark, but she cited his insurance business instead.

"Crosby and Clark's hauteur is slipping," Lee wrote that day. "I'm getting swamped with calls from FDOC personnel who want to see the cleanup."

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or 850 224-7263.