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Gainesville businessmen admit paying bribes to Florida prison officials

Two Gainesville businessmen have admitted paying bribes to state prison officials and officers of Keefe Commissary, the St. Louis company that provides snacks and other items to Florida's prison inmates.

Joseph Arthur Deese, 38, appeared in federal court in Jacksonville on Wednesday and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to pay kickbacks to former Corrections Secretary James V. Crosby and Allen Wayne Clark, another high-ranking prison official.

Edward Lee Dugger, 64, entered a similar plea in March. Both men face sentencing July 27. Dugger, owner of an Allstate Insurance agency in Gainesville, befriended Crosby shortly before he was appointed in 2003 to run the state prison system by Gov. Jeb Bush.

Federal prosecutors say Crosby introduced Dugger to officers of the Police Benevolent Association, the union representatives for prison guards, and Dugger soon began selling insurance inside the prison system.

Shortly after signing a contract that gave the prison vending business to Keefe, Crosby introduced Dugger and Deese to Keefe executives who offered a part of the prison business to the two Gainesville men.

The two men admit to creating a company in 2004 to provide canteen services for visitors at all Florida prisons. In return for the agreement to operate the canteens, Dugger and Deese agreed to pay Crosby and Clark between $1,000 and $14,000 a month. They also agreed to pay former Keefe Commissary president Jack Donnelly and another Keefe executive about $260,000 of the $1.5 million a year they expected to make from sales.

Dugger and Deese admitted guilt after federal prosecutors announced plans to use tape-recorded conversations between Dugger and Donnelly as evidence at trial. The conversations were recorded in September and October 2009.

It has been more than five years since Crosby and Clark were forced to resign in the midst of the bribery investigations. No charges have been filed against Keefe Commissary officials. A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill refused to say whether any additional charges will be filed. Crosby and Clark have already served federal prison terms stemming from pleas they entered in 2007.

Gainesville lawyer Gil Schaffnit, who represents Deese, said he believes Keefe Commissary has far too many political connections to face charges for taking bribes from a prison vendor who helped operate canteens for inmates and their visitors. Keefe offers inmate services at state and local prisons in dozens of states.

Gainesville businessmen admit paying bribes to Florida prison officials 06/01/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 9:09pm]
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