Thursday, April 26, 2007

Life from the other side of the bars

The Florida Times-Union
April 26, 2007

By MATT GALNOR, The Times-Union

Allen Clark went undercover to help federal prosecutors build their corruption case against his close friend and mentor, former state Department of Corrections Secretary James Crosby.

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In return, Clark will serve about a third of the time in prison that Crosby will.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Hernandez Covington sentenced Clark to 31 months in prison Wednesday, a day after she ordered Crosby to serve eight years. Both faced a maximum of 10 years.

Clark, 41, and Crosby, 54, pleaded guilty in July to taking kickbacks from American Institutional Services, a Gainesville-based business they helped get a deal to sell snacks to weekend prison visitors. As part of the deal, Clark and Crosby would split 40 percent of the profits and took about $130,000 between them.

No one from AIS has been charged. Clark and Crosby are continuing to cooperate in ongoing investigations.

"There is much more to come in this case," said Stephen Dobson, one of Clark's attorneys.

And much of it will stem from what Clark helped the government learn.

Various criminal charges within the department - from a steroid ring among softball players to embezzling from a recycling center - led investigators up the Corrections Department ladder.

During winter 2005, investigators taped conversations between a confidential informant and Clark, who by then had resigned his job overseeing more than a dozen Panhandle prisons. Those recordings shed light on the kickback scheme, though investigators had their sights trained on Clark, thinking he was the main defendant.

Investigators approached Clark in February 2006 - the day after Crosby was forced to resign by Gov. Jeb Bush.

After lengthy, intense negotiations in a Gainesville hotel, a deal was struck, according to court testimony. Clark would talk - and he'd lead the authorities to Crosby, and potentially others who have yet to be charged.

Clark started telling what he knew and the meeting lasted into early Sunday morning. That day, Clark went undercover, wearing a wire during a conversation with Crosby - the man who guided his rapid ascent through the department to a $94,500-a-year job.

Clark met with Crosby and others a total of 15 times mostly face-to-face encounters where Clark wore a wire. Clark picked up $15,000 as part of the scheme - further solidifying the case.

"Everything he's been asked to do, he's done," acting U.S. Attorney Jim Klindt said.

Klindt and Dobson both asked for a lighter sentence than Clark ended up with. Covington said she understood the lengths Clark went to in helping the government and believes that he is remorseful, but could not go lower.

"Mr. Clark, I can't get around the breach of public trust," Covington said.

As with Crosby, Clark was given 30 days to report to prison because prosecutors feared for his safety if placed in a county jail waiting to be assigned to a federal facility., (904) 359-4550

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