A federal —not state — investigation unraveled years of ripping off taxpayers, inmates and their families. In sentencing Epps to nearly 20 years in prison, U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate said the total value of contracts involved was $868 million. The judge called the level of criminal conduct, “staggering,” yet two members of the Legislature had written to Wingate pleading for leniency.
Call it what you want, but “merry-go-round” seems fair. 1. A custodian of public funds gets a little too frisky. 2. Some more powerful entity gets involved. 3. There is shock and surprise. 3. A blue-ribbon committee or task force is appointed. 4. The Legislature passes a few more laws to add to the dozens upon dozens already in place. 5. The cycle begins anew.
In fairness, it must be said that an honest person doesn’t need rules and a crook will always find a way through or around. When there’s a pot of free money being passed around, opportunists will try to grab a handful as it goes by.
Is it possible to break these cycles? Yes, and it should be a priority in a state as cash-strapped as Mississippi.
The first step is for the public to be ready and willing to do that.
Until then, the scene will run and rerun. Same script. Same scenes. Same lines. Different actors will be nabbed in a quest for purity, expressions of piety and pledges to tighten up will follow, and in a few months it will be someone else’s turn.