Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has ordered the state police to conduct a criminal investigation of understaffing and falsified documents at a private prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
The governor made the decision — a reversal of his previous stance —Feb. 18 after meeting with Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Otter wrote in a letter to Idaho State Police Col. Ralph Powell that after reviewing the available information, including an audit completed by the forensic auditing firm KPMG, he now believed the public would benefit from a formal criminal investigation.
“After reviewing available information, including the KPMG audit report, I believe the public interest would benefit from a formal criminal investigation into the acknowledged falsification of Corrections Corporation of America’s staffing records at the Idaho Correctional Center during 2012,” Otter wrote in the letter to Powell. “Please accept this letter as my direction for the Idaho State Police to undertake such an investigation immediately, and to put whatever time, personnel and resources are necessary at the disposal of conducting it in a thorough and timely manner. I look forward to your findings and conclusions.”
CCA spokesman Steve Owen said the company believes the report contains major errors. CCA has hired an attorney and is trying to get KPMG to declare the audit findings inconclusive.
“We have been on the record since the beginning with numerous, detailed concerns about KPMG’s flawed report,” Owen wrote in an email Feb. 18.
Otter had previously supported Powell’s decision not to investigate the company.
CCA has operated Idaho’s largest prison for more than a decade. The Idaho Department of Correction asked the Idaho State Police to launch a criminal investigation into CCA last year after an Associated Press investigation showed that the Nashville, Tenn.-based company’s staffing reports given to the state listed some guards as working 48 hours straight in order to meet minimum staffing requirements. CCA then acknowledged that its employees falsified the documents to hide understaffing at the prison in violation of the $29 million state contract.
For the past 12 months, state officials have said that the investigation was underway. But after the AP filed a public-records request for the Idaho State Police investigation documents late last month, the law enforcement agency revealed no investigation ever occurred. Powell said he decided early last year that there was no crime to investigate, and instead he attended meetings with the Idaho Department of Correction as the department sifted through the documents gathered for the KPMG audit.
The KPMG audit, obtained by the Associated Press two weeks ago, found that more than 26,000 hours of mandatory guard posts were understaffed or otherwise problematic. CCA says that number overestimates the staffing problems by more than a third, and that KPMG failed to account for holiday staffing levels and employees with the same last name. CCA has agreed to pay the state $1 million to settle the understaffing issue.
Todd Dvorak, the spokesman for Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, said he couldn’t share details of Wasden’s meeting with Otter because it falls under attorney-client privilege.
“We join with the Governor and look forward to the findings and conclusions of the investigation,” Wasden said in a prepared statement.
Owen, the CCA spokesman, said his company has worked in good faith with the state and reached a resolution to make taxpayers whole.
“Throughout this process, we’ve operated under the same understanding as the public that the Idaho State Police was conducting its investigation, as well,” Owen wrote in the email. “We’ve cooperated throughout and will continue to do so going forward.”
Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray said his department stands ready to cooperate in every way possible.
Otter’s letter to the Idaho State Police marked the second time in as many months that the governor has changed his mind on issues surrounding the CCA-run prison. In January, Otter announced that he was directing the Idaho Department of Correction to take over the facility. Otter, a self-described “champion of prison privatization,” said at the time that the problems surrounding the facility had grown too great and that having the state assume management was the right thing to do.
Otter is tied only with Texas Gov. Rick Perry for having received the most campaign contributions from CCA, totaling $20,000 since 2003. Otter said he didn’t know he held that record until a reporter asked him about the contribution amounts at a public function earlier this month.
Wasden first urged Otter to order the Idaho State Police to do a criminal investigation on Feb. 7, shortly after the news broke that no investigation had occurred. But within hours of receiving Wasden’s recommendation, Otter responded with a firm thanks but no thanks.
In a letter sent to Wasden’s office that day, Otter said the Idaho State Police had already assessed the matter for indications of criminal wrongdoing and had consulted with both state and county legal representatives before determining that no crime had occurred. So, Otter said, no criminal investigation was needed.