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Idaho gov orders police to investigate CCA prison

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has ordered the state police to conduct a criminal investigation of understaffing and falsified documents at a private prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

The governor made the decision - a reversal of his previous stance - on Tuesday after meeting with Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Otter wrote in a letter to Idaho State Police Col. Ralph Powell that after reviewing the available information, including an audit completed by the forensic auditing firm KPMG, he now believed the public would benefit from a formal criminal investigation.

"After reviewing available information, including the KPMG audit report, I believe the public interest would benefit from a formal criminal investigation into the acknowledged falsification of Corrections Corporation of America's staffing records at the Idaho Correctional Center during 2012," Otter wrote in the letter to Powell. "Please accept this letter as my direction for the Idaho State Police to undertake such an investigation immediately, and to put whatever time, personnel and resources are necessary at the disposal of conducting it in a thorough and timely manner. I look forward to your findings and conclusions."

CCA spokesman Steve Owen has previously said the company has serious concerns with the KPMG audit and believes it contains multiple errors. CCA has hired an attorney and is trying to get KPMG to declare the audit "inconclusive."

Otter had previously supported Powell's decision not to investigate the company.

CCA has operated Idaho's largest prison for more than a decade. The Idaho Department of Correction asked the Idaho State Police to launch a criminal investigation into CCA last year after an Associated Press investigation showed that the Nashville, Tenn.-based company's staffing reports given to the state listed some guards as working 48 hours straight in order to meet minimum staffing requirements. CCA then acknowledged that its employees falsified the documents to hide understaffing at the prison in violation of the $29 million state contract.

For the past 12 months, state officials have said that the investigation was underway. But after the AP filed a public-records request for the Idaho State Police investigation documents late last month, the law enforcement agency revealed no investigation ever occurred. Powell said he decided early last year that there was no crime to investigate, and instead he attended meetings with the Idaho Department of Correction as the department sifted through the documents gathered for the KPMG audit.

The KPMG audit, obtained by the Associated Press two weeks ago, found that more than 26,000 hours of mandatory guard posts were understaffed or otherwise problematic. CCA says that number overestimates the staffing problems by more than a third. CCA has agreed to pay the state $1 million to settle the understaffing issue.

Todd Dvorak, the spokesman for Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, said he couldn't share details of Wasden's meeting with Otter because it falls under attorney-client privilege.

"We join with the Governor and look forward to the findings and conclusions of the investigation," Wasden said in a prepared statement.

Owen, the CCA spokesman, could not be immediately reached for comment. CCA officials have previously said they were cooperating fully with the Department of Correction as department officials examined the understaffing issue, and that the company has taken steps to ensure the problem never happens again.

"The department stands ready to cooperate in every way possible," Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray said.

Otter's letter to the Idaho State Police marked the second time in as many months that the governor has changed his mind on issues surrounding the CCA-run prison. In January, Otter announced that he was directing the Idaho Department of Correction to take over the facility. Otter, a self-described "champion of prison privatization," said at the time that the problems surrounding the facility had grown too great and that having the state assume management was the right thing to do.

Otter is tied only with Texas Gov. Rick Perry for having received the most campaign contributions from CCA, totaling $20,000 since 2003. Otter said he didn't know he held that record until a reporter asked him about the contribution amounts at a public function earlier this month.

Wasden first urged Otter to order the Idaho State Police to do a criminal investigation on Feb. 7, shortly after the news broke that no investigation had occurred. But within hours of receiving Wasden's recommendation, Otter responded with a firm thanks but no thanks.

In a letter sent to Wasden's office that day, Otter said the Idaho State Police had already assessed the matter for indications of criminal wrongdoing and had consulted with both state and county legal representatives before determining that no crime had occurred. So, Otter said, no criminal investigation was needed.

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