Election Central

Democrats call for FBI inquiry on Idaho private prison, Otter says ‘fine with me’

Democratic gubernatorial candidate A.J. Balukoff and the six Democratic leaders in the Idaho Legislature are calling for an independent inquiry into staffing fraud at the prison operated by the Corrections Corporation of America.

Gov. Butch Otter, who in January ordered the end of the private operation of the state’s largest prison, had first resisted a call by Attorney General Lawrence Wasden for a criminal inquiry. But last week, Otter reversed himself, ordering an investigation by Idaho State Police.

That’s not enough, said Balukoff said in a news release late Wednesday. Otter’s GOP opponent, Senate Majority Leader Russ Fulcher, earlier called for a criminal investigation before Otter’s reversal.

“The governor has lost the trust of the public by bungling the state’s private prison contract,” Balukoff said in the release. “We need to trust that the governor wants every public tax dollar accounted for and that the affair with CCA has been fully investigated.”

Thursday morning, House Minority Leader John Rusche and Senate Minority Leader and their four deputies released a letter dated Wednesday to the FBI asking that the federal agency to investigate “because we are concerned the Idaho State Police lack the manpower and expertise to complete a thorough, wide-ranging, and complete investigation which may require substantial interstate activities.”

CCA is headquartered in Tennessee and is ending its operation of the 2,080-bed Idaho Correctional Center June 30.

Asked about the Democrats’ push for a federal inquiry Thursday, Otter said, “I hadn’t heard that. But my instructions to (ISP) Col. (Ralph) Powell was ‘no holds barred.’ And if that investigator that he puts in motion wants to visit with the FBI and wants to invite the FBI in with their expertise, it’s fine with me.”

Asked if he was endorsing FBI involvement, Otter said, “I’m leaving it up to the investigator. I don’t think anybody ought to put sideboards on that. He ought to be free to find out whatever he can find out.”

The state has accepted a $1 million settlement with CCA, releasing it from all civil liability connected to the understaffing at the prison south of Boise, as well as any liability stemming from staffing issues not yet discovered.

Balukoff’s news release follows:

BALUKOFF CALLS FOR INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION OF PRISON CONTRACT

BOISE, Idaho- Idaho Democratic gubernatorial candidate, A.J. Balukoff calls for an independent investigation into the questionable actions surrounding Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s agency heads and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).  Balukoff said an independent investigation is the only way for Idaho’s government to win back the public’s trust.

“The governor has lost the trust of the public by bungling the state’s private prison contract,” Balukoff said. “We need to trust that the governor wants every public tax dollar accounted for and that the affair with CCA has been fully investigated.”

For the past year, whether intentionally or not, the governor and his managers have misled the public and even the courts to believe that they were working to discover the extent to which CCA overbilled Idaho taxpayers — no such investigation ever happened. Balukoff, a former certified public accountant, believes that the only way to conduct a thorough investigation of the matter is to engage an independent third party, one that does not report to the governor.

“Three issues are at play, here,” Balukoff said. “First, we have a private contractor that has been awarded millions of state dollars to do a job. And, that company has admitted to overbilling the state for work that was not accomplished. Second, we have a governor who failed to lead his team effectively to assure Idahoans that a criminal investigation would be done. Finally, he has kicked the investigation to an agency that has said they are so poorly funded that they struggle to provide the essential services they are already tasked with.”

CCA must be held accountable for taxpayer’s monies that it was awarded for work that was not accomplished, and if the error in their overbilling to the state was criminal, they should be prosecuted.  Governor Otter has failed to assure Idahoans that he has done that. The indecision and confusion exhibited among the leadership of the governor’s office is characteristic of the dysfunction found in organizations that lack strong leadership and have inadequate managers.

“My business experience tells me that the organization known as the Idaho government is being mismanaged and is in need of a change at the top,” Balukoff said. “This isn’t the first state contract that has been mismanaged by the governor’s administration.  Taxpayers deserve transparency and the truth, and our leaders should work overtime to deliver that.”

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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Posted in Election Central, Idaho Politics