Lawsuit Claims Trump Administration Is Covering Up Pay-for-Play Relationship With Private Prison Company

Detained immigrants
Immigrant detainees are seen at the GEO Group's Adelanto detention center in California on April 13. The group has won several lucrative contracts from the Trump administration. Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Another lawsuit has been added to the slew of cases pending against the beleaguered Trump administration. On Thursday, the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan D.C. organization, filed suit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) over a $110 million private prison contract it awarded to pro-Trump company the GEO Group.

The story begins on August 18, 2016, when then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates ordered the phasing out of private correctional facilities. Whether in response or simply by coincidence, the next day the GEO Group, the U.S.'s second-largest private prisons company, donated $100,000 to Rebuilding America Now, a pro-Trump super PAC.

On November 1, the Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint against the subsidiary of the GEO Group, GEO Corrections Holdings, which had made the donation. The legal group argued that since U.S. law bans a federal contractor from contributing money for political use, GEO Corrections Holdings had broken the law.

In an emailed statement to Newsweek in May, the GEO Group denied the allegations. Pablo Paez, vice president of corporate relations at the company, wrote: "Our contribution was fully compliant with all applicable federal election laws. GEO Corrections Holdings Inc., the company that made the donation, is a non-contracting legal entity and has no contracts with any governmental agency."

Related: Meet the GEO Group, the private prison company who gave money to Trump—and is now reaping the rewards

On the same day that the Campaign Legal Center filed the suit, November 1, GEO Corrections Holdings donated a further $125,000 to Rebuilding America Now.

It seems the corrections company had backed the winning horse. On February 21, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions scrapped Yates's memo and authorized the continued use of private prisons. A week later, the Campaign Legal Center sent a freedom of information request to the DOJ asking it to clarify Sessions's decision, and whether it was affected by the GEO Group's donations. (The Office of Public Affairs granted the center expedited processing for this.)

Then, in April, as the prison company's stock continued to rise, the DOJ awarded it a $110 million contract to build an immigration detention center, which the Obama administration had procured. The department did not, however, provide the Campaign Legal Center with the information it required.

In the organization's lawsuit against the department it notes: "To date, defendant and its components have not produced any documents in response to plaintiff's request…DOJ's delay—and [the Office of Legal Counsel's] projection that expedited processing will take until the end of the calendar year—contravenes the grant of expedited processing, which requires DOJ to give plaintiff's request 'priority' and process it 'as soon as practicable.'"

With the suit likely to grind on for months, it remains business as usual for the DOJ and the GEO Group. On May 26, the Bureau of Prisons granted it two 10-year contracts that are expected to generate the company $664 million in combined revenues.