[Mass Incarceration\GEO Group & Trump]
Senator Elizabeth Warren\Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal: “These transactions raise questions about whether GEO is attempting to curry favor with the President by funneling money to the Trump family through the Trump Organization.”
Private prison profiteers The GEO Group has reportedly been “currying favor” with Donald Trump.
United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) sent a letter to George C. Zoley, Chief Executive Officer of The GEO Group, Inc. (GEO), one of the nation’s largest private prison operators that contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to operate a number of immigration detention facilities.
Their letter requests additional information regarding recent reports that GEO Senior Vice President of Client Relations David J. Venturella has patronized President Trump’s hotel in Washington, D.C. at least ten times, charging “Trump hotel bills to his GEO credit card.” These Trump hotel stays occurred during or around the time GEO was petitioning the government for a significant handout: to finance litigation brought against GEO by thousands of immigrants alleging that GEO unlawfully engaged in human trafficking by forcing them to work for no pay or as little as $1 per day.
In February 2018, Mr. Venturella wrote a private letter to ICE urging the agency to participate in the litigation and reimburse GEO for all of the costs. GEO subsequently sent another letter renewing its request. ICE initially rejected GEO’s repeated requests to use taxpayer dollars to cover GEO’s legal expenses. But one year later, in August 2019, the Trump Administration appears to have capitulated to GEO’s requests for government intervention, as the DOJ formally intervened in the lawsuits and asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit against GEO’s Northwest Detention Center in Washington.
“These transactions raise questions about whether GEO is attempting to curry favor with the President by funneling money to the Trump family through the Trump Organization,” wrote the lawmakers. “Choosing specifically to patronize President Trump’s hotel while soliciting intervention from the Trump Administration in a lawsuit against GEO, including requesting millions of taxpayer dollars to cover GEO’s legal expenses, raises serious concerns about possible corruption, or the appearance of corruption.”
The lawmakers have requested responses to the questions raised in their letter regarding corruption in the Trump Administration no later than December 20, 2019.
Senator Warren and Congresswoman Jayapal have introduced the most sweeping ethics and anti-corruption legislation since Watergate, the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, which would eliminate the potential for this kind of corruption. In March of 2019, Senator Warren led 30 of her Senate colleagues in reintroducing the Presidential Conflicts of Interest Act, a bill that would require the President and Vice President to disclose and divest any potential financial conflicts of interest.
In addition to investigating GEO’s use of Trump properties, Senator Warren and Congresswoman Jayapal investigated reports that T-Mobile executives started to regularly patronize President Trump’s hotel in Washington, DC, immediately after announcing a proposed merger with its rival, Sprint. This investigation revealed that T-Mobile had spent approximately $195,000 at the hotel in a single year.
Senator Warren has also taken a number of recent actions to hold immigration authorities accountable for issues with private detention operators, like GEO Group, and has called to end the use of such contractors entirely:
*Following a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General (IG) report that found unsafe conditions and mistreatment of immigrants at a number of privately-run immigration detention centers, Senator Warren investigated CoreCivic and GEO Group, as well as Nakamoto Group, the contractor responsible for auditing detention facilities. Her report revealed that neither the companies nor their private auditor have taken responsibility for egregious failures identified by the DHS IG, and also revealed an ongoing dispute between the Nakamoto Group, and the IG about the quality of Nakamoto’s inspections.
*She requested the DHS watchdog investigate the reported use of solitary confinement at GEO and CoreCivic facilities to force participation in “voluntary” work programs, and has raised questions with federal agencies about GEO’s accreditation in 2014 and 2017, given concerning reports about the company’s facilities.
*She requested the Securities and Exchange Commission investigate whether GEO violated securities laws by sharing with investors misleading statements about lawsuits brought against the company for the treatment of detainees.