Pine Prarie detention center

The lockup at Pine Prairie is one of eight prisons sold to The Geo Group in 2015 by Michael LeBlanc's firm, LCS Corrections. It's used to house people being detained by the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency. 

A Baton Rouge man who built a big business catering to prisons systems in Louisiana and Mississippi was finally sentenced to prison this week, more than three years after he admitted that he and several business partners tried to bribe their way into new contracts in Mississippi.

Michael LeBlanc Sr., 74, was ordered Monday to serve two years in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate of the Southern District of Mississippi, records show.

Wingate delayed sentencing for LeBlanc’s three co-conspirators: his son, Michael LeBlanc Jr., 45; Tawasky Ventroy, 63, of Opelousas and Jacque Jackson, 54, of LaPlace. LeBlanc Jr. and Ventroy are now set to be sentenced Feb. 17, Jackson on March 7.

The judge, who was appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan, ordered LeBlanc Sr. to report to prison by March 16.

State official took kickbacks

The case against the LeBlancs grew out of a broad contracting scandal that erupted in Mississippi in 2014 and centered on Christopher Epps, secretary of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Epps admitted taking bribes and kickbacks from a swath of contractors and lobbyists who worked with the prison system, and he wore a secret recording device to help federal authorities nab many of them.

The LeBlancs were among the last defendants to be sentenced in the case that prosecutors called Operation Mississippi Hustle.

On one recording made by the FBI in October 2014, LeBlanc Sr. was heard talking about paying a kickback to Epps to help American Telephone Systems – one of his firms – land contracts with Mississippi state-run prisons. Ventroy, a partner in the phone business, delivered $2,000 in cash to Epps later that month.

Bribe in the restroom

In December 2014, Jackson, another partner, handed Kemper County Sheriff James Moore $2,000 in gambling chips in the restroom of the Golden Nugget casino in Biloxi, to steer county jail contracts toward their businesses, according to the indictment. Jackson allegedly promised Moore at least $1,000 more if he delivered contracts.

Authorities have said Moore was working undercover for federal investigators and “was never a subject” of the corruption investigation.

LeBlanc Sr., who grew up in the Lafayette area, began working in the corrections world as an architect, winning concessions to design a number of prisons. He eventually formed a company that built and ran private prisons, including several in Louisiana, with his brother, Patrick, who was killed in a plane crash in 2008.

Selling out

In 2015, LeBlanc Sr. sold that company, LCS Corrections, which at the time owned eight lockups in Louisiana, Texas and Alabama, to the publicly traded giant Geo Group. The price was more than $300 million, although documents suggested most of the proceeds went to cover debts.

LeBlanc Sr. built two other firms, American Telephone Systems and Brothers Commissary, that snared contracts to run prison phone systems and canteens that sell snacks, toiletries and other items. Those companies held contracts with more than a dozen Louisiana sheriffs at the time prosecutors announced charges against LeBlanc.

In addition to those companies, LeBlanc owned an architecture firm, MWL Architects, that designed numerous lockups in Louisiana and Mississippi. The status of those contracts could not be determined Tuesday.

Epps, who admitted taking at least $1.4 million in kickbacks, is serving a 19-year sentence in federal prison. Mississippi's secretary of corrections today is Burl Cain, the longtime former warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, who left that post in 2015 amid investigations into his business dealings.

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