Tuesday, April 24, 2007
By RON WORD
Associated Press Writer
JACKSONVILLE, FL (AP) -- As head of the Florida Department of Corrections, Secretary James Crosby seemed to be above the fray as guards ran rampant. Some sold and used steroids, fought, hired ringers for the employee softball team and allegedly committed sexual assault, but Crosby clung to his job.
But Crosby, and his friend and protege, Allen Clark, had a nasty secret. Despite their generous state salaries, they were on the take. They admitted last July that they received $130,000 in kickbacks from a company that supplied potato chips, soft drinks and other snacks to weekend prison visitors.
Both are scheduled to be sentenced this week -- Crosby on Tuesday, Clark on Wednesday -- and will probably receive federal prison time. Federal officials have said Crosby could receive up to eight years in prison.
Crosby's attorney Steve Andrews said his client has been working with investigators looking into the kickback scandal. Andrews hopes U.S. District Judge Virginia Hernandez Covington will give the 54-year-old Crosby less than the maximum 10 years in prison.
"Mr. Crosby has cooperated and we hope the government recognizes the extent of his cooperation," Andrews said in a telephone interview. He said he could not comment on how long a sentence he believes Crosby will receive.
Crosby did not respond to a requests from The Associated Press seeking an interview. When he pleaded guilty in July, Crosby said he was ashamed. He blamed alcohol abuse and said he was getting treatment.
Since taking over the prison system with 92,000 inmates and 28,000 employees 14 months ago, Secretary James McDonough has fired several prison administrators and corrections officers and implemented a strict code of conduct.
Crosby and Clark, formerly one of the department's regional directors, pleaded guilty to taking kickbacks from American Institutional Services.
Both have agreed to pay $130,000 in restitution, which is the total amount of the kickbacks. Prosecutors have not said how much each received, but under federal law both are responsible for the total amount.
They also lost their state retirement funds. Crosby received a lump-sum retirement payout of $215,000 and received a $66,000 annual pension.
Then-Gov. Jeb Bush forced Crosby to resign in February 2006 after vowing support for Crosby several times. Prosecutors said Clark would accept kickbacks and deliver part of those payments to Crosby. The kickbacks totaled up to $12,000 monthly. Clark made $94,300 annually as regional director and Crosby earned about $124,000 a year as prisons chief.
Crosby stopped receiving his portion of the kickbacks after Clark resigned in 2005, but Clark continued taking money until 2006, court documents said.
American Institutional Services, based in Gainesville, was a subcontractor of Keefe Commissary Network in St. Louis, which had the contract to supply commissary services to inmates. At Clark's and Crosby's urging AIS was hired by Keefe to handle the cash weekend sales to prison visitors.
Federal and state agents searched AIS offices in Gainesville in early June. After the search, McDonough canceled the AIS contract. McDonough is scheduled to give an impact statement at Crosby's sentencing.
Crosby joined the prison system in August 1975 and became the warden of several facilities. He was a popular choice when Bush tapped him to take control of the department in 2003.
During Crosby's tenure at Florida State Prison, death row inmate Frank Valdes died after a severe beating in July 1999. Crosby was on vacation at the time. He and other guards recently settled a lawsuit with the family for $737,500. Several of the guards were acquitted in trials in Bradford County and prosecutors dropped charges against other corrections officers.
Raised in Bradford County in area known as "the iron triangle" because of its multiple prisons, Crosby received a journalism degree from the University of Florida. He was also interested in politics, serving as mayor of Starke and working as a local volunteer for George W. Bush's 2000 presidential election campaign. He was a delegate to the Republican convention.
Ron McAndrew, a former warden at Florida State Prison and a critic of Crosby, said his complaints about Crosby to officials were ignored.
"For over four years, I beat on the doors of the FBI and Gov. Bush's office in an attempt to show that Crosby was a dishonest person entrusted with too much of the public's money."
"If Crosby gets anything less than eight years, we'll know that back-room politics did the sentencing and not the judge," McAndrew said.
Wanda Valdes, Frank Valdes' ex-wife, had mixed feelings about Crosby's sentence.
"Personally, I feel that Mr. Crosby has been humiliated and punished enough. The higher you are in life, the harder the fall. He was certainly one of the good ol' boys," Valdes said. "Mr. Crosby was an unjust man. I'm not a hateful person or a vengeful person, but one day he and his good ol' boy friends will face God."