JACKSON, Miss. — A physician who bribed Mississippi’s former prisons chief says it would be unconstitutionally excessive if their client was ordered to forfeit nearly $1.3 million.

Federal prosecutors, though, say that’s exactly the right amount for Dr. Carl Reddix to turn over to the federal government after he paid $187,500 in bribes to then Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps.

U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III put off Reddix’s sentencing while lawyers argue over the issue. Reddix also faces up to 10 years in prison and suggested fines in a range of $15,000 to $150,000.

Reddix agreed to forfeit money when he pleaded guilty to one count of bribery in June, but balked when probation officers suggested such a high total in a report to Jordan.

The amount demanded is half of the $2.5 million net benefit that Health Assurance LLC received from its $32 million in contracts with the Mississippi Department of Corrections. That calculation is not the same as profit. Instead the government subtracted the company’s $29 million in direct costs from $32 million in revenue. Reddix is liable for half the benefit because he owns half of the company.

Lawyer Robert Johnson III wrote Sept. 1 that the number neither reflects the harm caused, nor does it ensure proportionality, saying it violates the prohibition against excessive fines in the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.

Johnson argued that Health Assurance provided agreed medical services and that there’s no evidence the bribes causes Mississippi to pay more than it should have. Johnson said Reddix was paid about $467,000 by Health Assurance during the period in question, and never saw $1.3 million in proceeds.

“The excessiveness of this additional fine is also demonstrated by the fact that it’s based on an economic fiction and bears no relationship to any actual benefit received by Mr. Reddix,” Johnson wrote, saying the amount demanded is roughly half the net worth of Reddix and his wife. He argued that if the court goes through with the forfeiture, it should consider a lesser fine and prison sentence.

He also argued that the government must identify particular property to be forfeited, and can’t just order Reddix to pay a certain amount.

“Mr. Reddix does not own or possess any of the proceeds, or any real property or personal property traceable to the subject violation,” Johnson wrote. “Therefore, since the government has not adequately identified the specific property that is subject to forfeiture, then there is no property for this court to order forfeited.”

Prosecutors say there’s no problem with Jordan ordering Reddix to pay, even if he doesn’t have cash or property on hand.

“Reddix’s possession is not the relevant inquiry,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Case wrote in a brief filed Friday. “The relevant inquiry is whether the proceeds were ill-gotten. If so, the full extent of the ill-gotten gains must be forfeited.”

Otherwise, prosecutors warn, criminals could avoid forfeiture by disposing of property.

Case denied that the forfeiture is unconstitutionally excessive.

“This is far from ‘grossly disproportionate’ to the gravity of his offense,” Case wrote. “To the contrary. It is exactly proportionate: Reddix must disgorge only those monies which he received from his illegal bribery scheme.”

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