Tennessee to rebid $123M contract amid rigging accusations

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Department of Correction on Monday said it will rebid a $123 million contract for behavioral health services after a lawsuit accused a state official of rigging the bidding process.

In an amended complaint filed in federal court two weeks ago, Tennessee-based prison contractor Corizon claims the Correction Department’s former chief financial officer, Wesley Landers sent internal emails related to the contract to a vice president at Centurion of Tennessee. In return, Landers got a “cushy” job with a Centurion affiliate in Georgia, the lawsuit claims.

According to the complaint, at the same times Landers was being hired, the performance bond on the mental health services contract increased from $1 million to $118 million. That effectively put the contract out of reach of the smaller Corizon, which had won the two previous bids in 2012 and 2016.

In an emailed statement, the Tennessee Correction Department said that it and the Department of General Services Central Procurement Office have decided to reissue a request for proposals after receiving information “evidencing practices inconsistent with the rules and regulations in place to insure fairness and transparency in the procurement process.” News of the change was initially reported in The Tennessean.

TDOC spokesperson Dorinda Carter said Missouri-based Centurion will continue as the prison mental health care provider for the time being. She did not immediately know whether Centurion would be allowed to bid on the new contract. General Services spokesman David H. Roberson referred the question back to TDOC.

Corizon is seeking compensation for lost profits and triple damages from Centurion and Landers. An attorney for Centurion did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment from The Associated Press on Monday afternoon. No attorney for Landers is listed in court documents. The company is also seeking an injunction against several TDOC and Procurement Office officials to prevent violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

According to the lawsuit, Landers sent internal TDOC communications to a home Gmail account and then forwarded them to Centurion Vice President Jeffrey Wells. Landers used a program that automatically wiped the emails from his computer. However, some of the email communications were recovered from Centurion. They include a draft of the request for proposals sent to Wells almost two months before it was made public. Landers also communicated with Wells through the encrypted messaging service WhatsApp, according to the lawsuit.

Centurion fired both Wells and Landers in February, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also accuses state officials of increasing the behavioral health services contract award amount to $123 million after Centurion secured it because the cost of obtaining a $118 million performance bond was so high, it would eat into Centurion’s profits. Behavioral health services includes psychiatric and addiction services.