GULFPORT, Miss. — A business and government consultant has been sentenced to seven years and three months in federal prison for paying kickbacks to Mississippi’s former corrections commissioner and others.

The Sun Herald reports (http://bit.ly/2cMhDjw ) Robert Simmons, 61, was sentenced Thursday.

When he pleaded guilty in February, Simmons told a judge he thought bribery is “the cost of doing business in Mississippi.”

Simmons admitted paying kickbacks between 2005 and 2014 to then-Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps and between 2005 and 2011 to William Martin, who was a Harrison County supervisor. Evidence showed Simmons’ clients received millions of dollars’ worth of contracts.

Epps has pleaded guilty in a separate case and awaits sentencing. Martin committed suicide in February 2015 rather than face bribery charges in the case.

Simmons’ attorney, K.C. Hightower, said Simmons provided the government “substantial assistance at great risk” in the investigation of Epps and others.

Simmons signed a plea agreement and began cooperating with investigators after he was confronted with the evidence against him, including video and audio recordings, and wiretaps.

U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden gave Simmons the lowest sentence possible under federal guidelines, saying he considered Simmons’ cooperation and crime-free past. Simmons could have received up to nine years in prison.

Simmons also will pay a $10,000 fine and serve three years of supervised release once his prison time is finished.

“These types of offenses are very serious,” Ozerden told Simmons. “They involve conduct that calls into question the integrity of our public institutions. The court must take that into consideration.”

Simmons apologized to his wife, who did not attend the hearing, his friends and the public.


Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com