Eddie Lucio’s shady ties with the private prison industry

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A recently resurfaced transcript shows State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. admitting to making money from the prison industry. Lucio, a Democrat who has represented Brownsville for nearly 30 years has frequently come under fire from progressives for his right-wing stances on a number of issues, including abortion and LGBTQ rights. 

“I have consulting contracts with a firm out of Dallas, [an] architectural firm, that builds jails and prisons. That’s helped me a lot,” Lucio said in a 2003 interview. “And I don’t mind telling you, sometimes you build a prison and you get a bonus. You build a jail, you get a little bonus. Those things add up and obviously that’s what has afforded me to be able to build a home out in the country.”     

The quote was circulated by Lucio’s primary challenger Sara Stapleton-Barrera on Twitter, as was the full transcript of the interview.

“For the Senator to make hundreds of thousands of dollars off the private prison industry, essentially putting a dollar sign on each detainees head, has done nothing more but feed into this immoral industry that leads to mass incarceration.” Stapleton-Barrera told the Signal, “It is just plain wrong.”

Lucio’s connection with private prisons runs deep and he’s been tied to some interesting figures in the industry. 

From 2003-2006, Lucio took at least $115,000 from three companies involved in private prisons, according to the Texas Observer. One of those companies,Corplan Corrections, was involved in a bizarre scandal in Hardin, Montana. With some persuasion from Corplan’s CEO, the small town paid several companies $27 million to build a prison that never housed any prisoners. In their desperation, Hardin offered to house sex offenders for the state and Guantanamo Bay inmates for the federal government before turrning to a fraudulent private security company run by a convicted felon.  

It’s common practice for companies like Corplan, which get paid to build prisons but not operate them, to find local governments desperate for economic opportunities and swindle them into financing risky prison facilities. The company rakes in profits and the community is left to figure out what to do with a failed prison. 

In 2005, Lucio stopped consulting for Corplan after two Willacy County commissioners pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from private prison companies (including Corplan) in exchange for contracts. However, in 2006 Texas Observer reported that Lucio was working with Hale-Mills, a Houston-based construction company that was also involved in both the Hardin affair (they received nearly $20 million to design and build Hardin’s prison) and the Willacy County bribery scandal.  

The private prison connection runs in the family. Lucio’s son, state Rep. Eddie Lucio III, represented Corplan in its bid to build an immigrant family detention center. 

Photo: Caspar Benson/ Getty Images

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