Jackson, Miss. – Four Louisiana businessmen have been indicted and arrested for conspiracy, paying bribes, and attempting to pay bribes to former Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Christopher B. Epps and current Kemper County Sheriff James Moore in exchange for receiving contracts involving the MDOC and a regional detention facility located in Kemper County, announced U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst and Christopher Freeze, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Mississippi.
A three-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury on September 19, 2018, charges the four businessmen with conspiracy to defraud the United States, and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds. They are identified as:
• Michael LeBlanc Sr., 70, of Baton Rouge, La.
• Michael LeBlanc Jr., 40, of Prairieville, La.
• Tawasky L. Ventroy, 59, of Opelousas, La.
• Jacque B. Jackson, 50, of Laplace, La.
Between 2012 and 2015, the four are alleged to have conspired to pay bribes to former MDOC Commissioner Epps and Kemper County Sheriff Moore. Sheriff Moore voluntarily assisted the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and was never a subject of this investigation.
"As long as public corruption continues to be an issue in our state, I can promise you that the U.S. Attorney’s Office will be here to root it out, prosecute it, and ensure that justice is done. I want to personally thank Kemper County Sheriff James Moore for coming forward and working with us to catch those who violate our corruption laws," said U.S. Attorney Hurst.
According to the indictment, LeBlanc Sr., LeBlanc Jr., Ventroy and Jackson were associated with Brothers Commissary Services and American Phone Systems, both located in Louisiana but operating in the state of Mississippi.
The indictment states that LeBlanc Sr. allegedly used corrupt means in an attempt to secure lucrative jail and detention facility contracts for commissary and other services throughout Mississippi. Ventroy worked for LeBlanc Sr. to help secure the contracts.
According to the indictment, on or about October 20, 2014, LeBlanc Sr. called Epps to confirm Ventroy would be meeting with Epps. On or about October 21, 2014, Ventroy brought a $2,000 cash bribe or gratuity to former Commissioner Epps. LeBlanc Sr. and Ventroy also agreed to give something of value of $5,000 or more with the intent to influence Epps for awarding and retention of the contracts for LeBlanc Sr.’s company for inmate commissary services.
The indictment alleges that LeBlanc Jr. used corrupt means in an attempt to secure lucrative jail contracts for commissary and inmate telephone services with the Kemper County Regional Correctional Facility and elsewhere. Jackson worked for LeBlanc Jr. to help secure the contracts.
According to the indictment, on or about December 8, 2014, LeBlanc Jr. obtained $2,000 in casino chips at a Biloxi, Mississippi, casino. LeBlanc Jr. provided a minimum of four $500 chips to Jackson. Jackson gave Sheriff Moore a total of $2,000 in casino chips in the men’s restroom of the casino because the inside of the restroom was not covered by casino surveillance cameras. LeBlanc Jr. and Jackson also agreed to give something of value of $5,000 or more with the intent to influence Moore for awarding and retention of the contracts for LeBlanc Jr.’s company for inmate telephone and commissary services at the Kemper County Regional Correctional Facility.
LeBlanc Sr., LeBlanc Jr., Ventroy and Jackson are appearing today before United States Magistrate Judges in the Louisiana districts where they were arrested. Each will appear for their arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda R. Anderson in Jackson, Mississippi, on October 16, 2018, at 1:30 p.m.
LeBlanc Sr. and Ventroy are charged in Counts 1 and 2, which carry a maximum sentence of imprisonment of 5 years and 10 years each, respectively. LeBlanc Jr. and Jackson are charged in Counts 1 and 3, which also carries a maximum sentence of imprisonment of 5 years and 10 years each, respectively. Each count carries a fine of up to $250,000 and up to three years of supervised release.
U.S. Attorney Hurst commended the work of the special agents with the FBI’s Jackson Division who investigated the case, along with assistance from Kemper County Sheriff James Moore. The FBI New Orleans Division assisted with the arrests. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jay Golden and Kathlyn Van Buskirk.
The public is reminded that an indictment is merely a charge and should not be considered as evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
Jackson, Miss. – Four Louisiana businessmen pled guilty yesterday 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. 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.
“I want to thank Sheriff Moore who made the conscious effort to help the FBI in combating public corruption,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Sutphin. “Corruption of public officials at any level is something that we take very seriously and is one of our top criminal priorities.”
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.