tampabay.com

Lawmaker wants prison contract investigated

By ALEX LEARY
Published January 26, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - Alarmed by millions of dollars in overpayments the state made to a private prison contractor, a state senator called for a criminal investigation Thursday.

The payments have been known since 2005, but a settlement was reported this week in which the contractor will pay a fraction of what it received.

Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, said he read a story about the settlement, and "it just didn't rest well with me."

Crist asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to look at the contract between GEO Group of Boca Raton and the state Correctional Privatization Commission, which was disbanded in 2004 amid allegations of mismanagement and cronyism.

A spokeswoman for the FDLE declined to say whether the agency would investigate.

A 2005 state audit revealed that over an eight-year period GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America, another private contractor, were overpaid $4.5-million.

The Correctional Privatization Commission also gave GEO $5-million in cost-of-living salary adjustments that, auditors said, were not fully passed on to employees.

At the Quincy facility, Corrections Corp., of Nashville, got $2.9-million more for facility maintenance than it spent.

This month, GEO agreed to pay $402,501 under a deal reached with the Department of Management Services, which took over oversight of the contracts. Crist called the payback "unacceptable," but said his main focus was on what seems a too cozy relationship between the former Correctional Privatization Commission and the contractors.

A GEO spokesman did not return a call Thursday. Corrections Corp. has not reached a deal with the state.

Alex Leary can be reached at aleary@sptimes.com or 850 224-7263.