Ex-prison boss gets 8 years behind bars

Published April 25, 2007

JACKSONVILLE - Former state corrections chief James V. Crosby Jr. was sentenced to 8 years in federal prison Tuesday after he apologized for the mess he left behind.

Crosby, 54, admitted taking kickbacks from a prison vendor after working his way to the top of the prison system during a 31-year career that began in 1975.

"I failed a lot of people," Crosby said as he took the witness stand in front of U.S. District Judge Virginia Hernandez Covington. "I pled guilty and admitted to this because I'm truly sorry for what I did. I'm sorry."

Without ever actually looking at Crosby, the judge read from a written text, noting that he had violated a public trust and did not deserve to get a break at sentencing. Federal guidelines would have allowed a 10-year sentence.

"The work you were doing requires the highest integrity," Covington said. "And I'm disappointed you still have not paid even a portion of the $130,000 you agreed to pay. Someone who was really sorry would not only apologize but pay at least a portion of it."

But she did allow him to go home for 30 days while prison officials figure out a place they can safely house him. He'll be on the equivalent of house arrest, forced to wear an electronic anklet and allowed to leave home only for church, visits to the doctor and to see his elderly parents.

Acting U.S. Attorney Jim Klindt recommended the move, saying Crosby poses a safety issue due to his previous employment in the state prison system.

Crosby also apologized to the current Corrections Secretary James McDonough, who as the only witness called by prosecutors described corruption at the department in graphic terms.

"Corruption had become a cancer on the department," McDonough said. "My office was a crime scene, taped off - an indication we had serious problems."

Undisciplined employees, people who took the law into their own hands to do what they wanted and got away with it damaged the department, he said.

"Some wanted me to excuse them for only being a little bit corrupt," McDonough said. "They said we had to play along. It was an intolerable answer. They were protecting each other with a purposeful and cunning design. If you were head of the department these people offered a buffer of protection against exposure."

Recruiting, promotions - even the inspector general's office - were all corrupted, he added.

Each officer had taken an oath to the U.S. Constitution and the state, McDonough noted, but employees of the department operated as though they were above the law.

"Duty, honor and country must be the ethos of the department, not plunder, pillage and pleasure," he added.

McDonough was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush to fill the position 15 months ago when Crosby was forced to resign. Gov. Charlie Crist retained him in the job after taking office in January.

McDonough was warmly greeted outside the courtroom by several former prison employees who traveled to Jacksonville to watch the Crosby sentencing.

"It's a good day for justice," said Ron McAndrews, a former prison superintendent who has been an outspoken critic of Crosby. "The biggest crime he committed was in dishonoring the trust of the people of Florida."

Crosby drew praise from all sides when he was appointed to run the system in 2003. North Florida lawmakers knew him well and the union that represents prison guards viewed him as one of their own.

When he took the top job, Crosby had served as warden at five different state prisons, including Florida State Prison where death row inmate Frank Valdes was beaten to death. Crosby was away from the prison on vacation when Valdes died, but Bush praised his handling of the situation, which led to the arrest of eight prison guards. Three were found innocent at trial, and the charges were dropped against five others.

The trouble that sent Crosby to jail began with a state and federal investigation into a number of complaints at the state agency which has 28,000 employees and guards 90,000 inmates.

Crosby was charged and began cooperating with prosecutors after Allen C. Clark, a top aide, secretly recorded conversations implicating him in accepting kickbacks from a Gainesville businessman who wanted a piece of the prison commissary business.

Clark is scheduled to be sentenced today.

Although prosecutors have acknowledged the cooperation of Clark and Crosby, the two will not immediately get any break in sentencing. The judge said attorneys for the men can file a motion seeking a reduction in sentence once the investigation is over.

Tallahassee lawyers Steve Andrews and David Moye expressed disappointment at Crosby's eight-year sentence, indicating prosecutors had promised a significantly shorter sentence of around 57 months.

Lucy Morgan can be reached at lmorgan@sptimes.com or 850 224-7263.