JACKSON — The wife of former Mississippi prison chief Chris Epps isn’t ready to give up the Flowood house that her husband agreed to forfeit as part of a guilty plea in a bribery scheme.
Catherlean Epps has hired an attorney with expertise in federal forfeiture cases to keep her claim on property her husband has agreed to hand over, the Clarion-Ledger reports.
Her husband, the former Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner, pleaded guilty to two counts of a 49-count federal indictment. Epps was accused of taking roughly $2 million in bribes to steer hundreds of millions worth of state contracts to companies that a co-defendant had interests in or represented.
In the plea deal last February, he agreed to forfeit $2 million in assets, including the house.
Represented by Seattle-based attorney Richard Troberman, Catherlean Epps says many of the assets, including the couple’s home worth more than $300,000 were purchased with some of her earnings.
“My role is to protect her rights,” Troberman says. “She isn’t accused of any wrongdoing in this.”
Chris Epps faces up to 23 years in prison and fines of $750,000 at sentencing in June.
Ole Miss Law School Professor Ron Rychlak said illegally obtained money – or things purchased with such money – can be subject to forfeiture, even if an innocent spouse was involved in the purchase.
“An innocent spouse is not automatically protected … but there is a chance to keep the property, and I think this is particularly likely in the case of a family home,” Rychlak said.
During Epps’ guilty plea, then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Hurst said the government had control of the property with the exception of the Flowood home. He said the home could become government property after Epps’ sentence if included in the final order of forfeiture.