A Mississippi businessman, indicted last week in connection with bribes paid in exchange for prison contracts, made $198,000 between 2012 and 2014 as a lobbyist for the state’s payday loan and check cashing industries.
Irb Benjamin pleaded not guilty to federal bribery and kickback charges last Friday, according to the Mississippi Business Journal. A three-count indictment charged him with conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and two counts of bribery.
The charges could result in up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of multiple bribery counts.
Benjamin allegedly paid bribes to former Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps. Benjamin owned Mississippi Correctional Management that had contracts in several counties in the state.
Mississippi Secretary of State records show Benjamin earned $66,000 annually from 2012 through 2014 from the Consumer Lending Alliance and the Financial Services Center of Mississippi, two advocacy organizations for check cashers and payday loan lenders.
Benjamin helped convince Mississippi lawmakers in 2013 to remove a repeal provision from the state’s 2012 Check Cashers Act, helping ensure survival of payday lending in the state. Supporters said it was a way to offer borrowers 30 days to pay off low-dollar loans issued at more than 1,000 Mississippi storefront locations. As a tradeoff for increasing the payback period from 14 to 30 days, the law increased the amount of money payday lenders could loan at one time to $500, including fees. Legislators later acknowledged they left an easy way for payday lenders concerned about having money out for 30 days to get around the extended payback period.
Along with the possible prison term and fine, Benjamin faces the forfeiture of any money gained from the alleged scheme, authorities said.