Businessmen admit they conspired to bribe former Mississippi prison commissioner, sheriff

Published 2:48 pm Thursday, October 3, 2019

Four Louisiana businessmen pleaded guilty Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate to conspiring to pay bribes to former Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) Commissioner Christopher B. Epps and current Kemper County Sheriff James Moore in exchange for receiving contracts involving MDOC and a regional detention facility located in Kemper County, Mississippi, announced U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst and Special Agent in Charge Michelle Sutphin with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Mississippi.

Michael LeBlanc, Sr., 71, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Tawasky Ventroy, 60, of Opelousas, Louisiana, Michael LeBlanc, Jr., 42, of Prairieville, Louisiana, and Jacque Jackson, 51, of LaPlace, Louisiana, attempted to bribe former Commissioner Epps and Sheriff Moore who were both assisting the FBI at the time of the investigation.

The four men paid the bribes in an attempt to secure lucrative contracts in commissary and inmate calling services.

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The men were associated with Brothers Commissary Services and American Phone Systems, both located in Louisiana but operating in the state of Mississippi.

“Mississippians are sick and tired of corruption, and those who bribe our public officials will soon find themselves in a federal indictment. This office has made fighting public corruption a priority, and we will continue working with all of our partners to end corruption throughout our state,” said U.S. Attorney Hurst.

On October 16, 2014, LeBlanc, Sr. spoke with a confidential informant about his intent to put something in the hands of former Commissioner Epps that would help LeBlanc, Sr. obtain MDOC and County contracts.

During the conversation, he stated that he would let his business partner in American Phone Systems, Tawasky Ventroy, meet with former Commissioner Epps because they were both African Americans.

On October 21, 2014, Tawaksy Ventroy traveled to Jackson and met former Commissioner Epps in his office. Ventroy provided former Commissioner Epps with a $2,000 cash bribe. The payment was to influence former Commissioner Epps into helping American Phone Systems receive contracts in state corrections facilities.

During this same time, LeBlanc, Jr. and his business partner, Jackson, were trying to secure contracts for Brother’s Commissary and American Phone Systems in Kemper County.

On December 8, 2019, while attending the Mississippi Sheriff’s Conference, LeBlanc, Jr. retrieved $2,000 worth of casino chips from a table game and provided the chips to Jackson.

At Jackson’s request, Sheriff Moore met Jackson in the men’s restroom of the casino in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Jackson gave Sheriff Moore the casino chips to influence him into helping Jackson and LeBlanc, Jr. secure the contracts for commissary and inmate calling services in Kemper County.

Jackson told Sheriff Moore that he would provide another $1,000 once the contract was awarded. On January 16, 2015, when confronted by the FBI, Jackson admitted to passing the $2,000 in casino chips to Sheriff Moore in exchange for his assistance with securing the lucrative contracts.

The defendants will be sentenced by Judge Wingate on February 10, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. They each face a maximum penalty of five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine.

The case was investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by First Assistant United States Attorney Darren LaMarca and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathlyn R. Van Buskirk.