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Arkansas: Private Prison Contractors Cited for Ethics Violations

by David M. Reutter

The Arkansas Ethics Commission (AEC) issued letters of caution to four companies that provide corrections-related services, for failing to report contributions to the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association.

The companies, Tech Friends, Inc., City Tele Coin Co., Justice Solutions and Correct Solutions, LLC, agreed with the AEC’s August 16, 2019 finding that they violated Arkansas law by failing to register as lobbyists and neglecting to report lobbying expenses. The AEC began looking into the matter after it received a complaint from Charles Niell, chief executive officer of Tiger Correctional Services, who received a letter of caution for similar violations in 2018.

The AEC found that Tech Friends, which provides financial and communication services to jails, co-sponsored a breakfast during the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association’s winter conference in January 2019. It also co-sponsored the association’s Ronnie Baldwin Memorial Trout Tournament in 2017 and 2018.

City Tele Coin bought fried chicken for over 30 sheriffs during the January 2019 conference, and co-sponsored a lunch. It also co-sponsored the 2018 trout tournament and paid for meals at Riverfront Steakhouse.

Justice Solutions, a jail software company, co-sponsored the 2018 trout tournament and lunch and breakfast at the January conference. It also co-sponsored an event for sheriffs’ wives.

“Justice Solutions was unfortunately put in the middle of an ongoing dispute between another vendor, who opted to weaponize the commission in order to attempt to gain competitive advantage, and a local lawmaker,” stated the company’s president, Daniel Boswell, who did not provide further details.

Correct Solutions, which offers financial and phone services for jails, failed to report the free meals it provided to 30 sheriffs at the January conference. It also co-sponsored a breakfast and lunch as well as the 2018 trout tournament, and reportedly pledged $4,500 to co-sponsor a meeting of the Arkansas Narcotics Officers Association in May 2019.

While the four companies agreed they had committed the ethics violations, they disagreed with the AEC’s interpretation of the law that they were acting as lobbyists. Nonetheless, they have since registered as lobbyists and are now reporting their activities, including wining and dining sheriff’s officials in order to obtain lucrative contracts.