George C. Zoley

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George C. Zoley is the chairman of the board, CEO and founder of GEO Group, the second largest private prison company is the United States. Born in 1960, Zoley has been with GEO or its former parent company, the Wackenhut Corporation, since 1981.[1] He once called the late George Wackenhut, the controversial[2][3] right-wing founder of Wackenhut Corporation, the person he most admired.[4]

When Zoley joined Wackenhut in the early 1980s, the company was expanding into providing strike support services for private companies to allow them to continue operating during strikes.[5][6][7]

Zoley has been prominently involved in local and national privatization battles throughout his career. In his early years at Wackenhut, Zoley promoted the privatization of public fire departments.[8] In Dover, New Hampshire, the International Association of Firefighters and a citizen's group fought Zoley's efforts tenaciously, suing to block one such outsourcing of their local fire department, saying it was intended to break the union.[9]

Zoley's efforts were being promoted at the time by the pro-privatization Reason Foundation, which covered the pitched privatization battle between Wackenhut’s Zoley and the firefighters in Dover in its magazine.[10] Reason also pushed Zoley's views on private policing.[11] Wackenhut has financially supported the Reason Foundation.[12]

George Zoley

As a staff member at Wackenhut (1981-1988), Zoley helped the company form Wackenhut Corrections Corporation (WCC) as a division in 1984. A GEO Group timeline reports that during this period, Zoley "was instrumental to the development and marketing of detention and correctional services to government agencies."[13] In promoting the use of private prisons, Zoley reportedly said they are "kind of like a hotel with room and board."[14]

In 1987, under Zoley’s direction, Wackenhut received its first contract, from the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), to build and operate a detention center in Aurora, Colorado;[15] and in 1988 was hired to run two facilities in Texas.[16] That year, Wackenhut incorporated WCC as a subsidiary, and in July 1994, with Zoley as president and director, took it public.

In 1997, Zoley secured WCC's first contract with the federal bureau of prisons to operate the Taft Correctional Institution in California, and led WCC into the private prison health industry by buying Atlantic Shores Hospital and securing newly-created GEO Care's first contract.[17]

In 2003, with Zoley as board chair, WCC purchased its remaining stock from G4S (which had merged with its parent company Wackenhut and become an indirect owner of WCC shares) and renamed itself The GEO Group. In 2005, Zoley signed an agreement with Indiana making GEO Group the first private company to run a prison in the state.[18]

From 2006 to 2008, Zoley, as GEO Group CEO and board chair, was involved in a shareholder lawsuit over CentraCore Properties Trust (CPT), a real estate investment trust (REIT) that was technically independent of GEO but that, according to investigative reporter Beau Hodai, was “essentially the entity which held all of Wackenhut/GEO's real estate holdings.” Zoley was a founding CPT Trustee. According to Hodai, questions had been raised by both CPT shareholders and the SEC over whether CPT was in fact independent of GEO Group. When GEO Group sought to merge with CPT, shareholders filed suit in Maryland and Florida, “alleging that the merger was an inside deal beneficial to CPT trustees and GEO executives and that there were irreconcilable conflicts of interest between the two.”[19] The lawsuits were settled out of court in 2008 on undisclosed terms.[20]

Zoley has been politically active in Florida and nationally, contributing to the campaigns of now-Senator Marco Rubio, former Governor Charlie Crist,[21] and raising more than $100,000 for George W. Bush's 2004 presidential campaign.[22] Zoley has close ties with current Florida governor Rick Scott, who has pushed hard to privatize Florida's prison and prison healthcare systems. Zoley travelled to Britain with Scott in July 2012 on a business development trip.[23]

Zoley, along with other Geo Group employees,[24] also weighed in with a campaign contribution to former Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams, who sponsored the controversial SB 1070 bill empowering state and local law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of residents (much of the law was later struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court).

Zoley was also involved in a controversial $6 million deal in 2013 over Florida International University's agreement to sell the naming rights to its sports stadium to GEO Group. Zoley is an FAU alumnus, former chair of the FAU board of trustees, one-time chair of its presidential search committee, and board member of the FAU foundation.[25] The deal, which collapsed under heavy adverse publicity, led to the resignation of the university president, Mary Jane Saunders.[26]

Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council

GEO Group's parent company, Wackenhut Corporation, has funded the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).[27] GEO Group itself has also been a member as of 2010, according to In These Times.[28]

While Wackenhut (later GEO) was a member of ALEC's crime Task Force, ALEC pushed legislation to privatize prisons, and at the same time advanced harsh sentencing bills to put more people in prison for more time, particularly "truth-in-sentencing" legislation calling for all violent offenders to serve 85 percent of their sentences before being eligible for release, and "three strikes you're out" bills requiring mandatory life imprisonment for a third felony conviction. These bills became law in a majority of states during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Between 2003 and 2010, ProPublica reports that GEO Group contributed to many candidates who have or had connections to ALEC.[29]

About ALEC
ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” bills. Learn more at the Center for Media and Democracy's, and check out breaking news on our site.


In 2012, Zoley received $5,976,604 in compensation from the GEO Group.[30] In addition, according to the Palm Beach Post, Zoley earned more than $5 million in dividends from converting the GEO Group into a real estate trust.[31] The Post also reports that as part of the REIT conversion, GEO sold its residential treatment centers, at a loss, for $36 million to a group led by Zoley, and quotes compensation expert Paul Hodgson of BHJ Partners as saying the deal "raises multiple red flags." Hodgson is quoted as saying "that’s a clear conflict of interest. If I were a shareholder of that firm, I’d be raising questions."[32]

Articles and Resources

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  1. Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, SEC Form 10-K, December 31, 2000.
  2. Matt Schudel, "George Wackenhut Dies: Security Pioneer," The Washington Post, January 7, 2005.
  3. Jennifer Bayot, "George Wackenhut, 85, Dies; Founded Elite Security Firm," The New York Times, January 8, 2005.
  4. “Wackenhut Corrections: George Zoley, CEO,” The Palm Beach Post, September 21, 1998.
  5. Funding Universe (Lendio [1]), "The Wackenhut Corporation History," accessed October 1, 2013.
  6. Matt Schudel, "George Wackenhut Dies: Security Pioneer," The Washington Post, January 7, 2005.
  7. Jeffrey Zaslow, "Gardner Stern Caters To Strikebreakers, Who Must Eat, Too— Bulletproof Vest Protects Him From Some Labor Strife," The Wall Street Journal, August 5, 1985.
  8. Dick Davies, "A City Considers Private Fire Service", The New York Times, January 30, 1983.
  9. Fred Bayles, “Dover, N.H., Eyes Private Fire Service,” Boston Globe, November 6, 1983. Link to article in The Daily Reporter, November 8, 1983, here, accessed October 1, 2013.
  10. Jim Peron, "Blazing Battles," Reason magazine, November 1983. On Zoley see p. 42.
  11. Theodore Gage, "Cops, Inc.: The Experiences of Several Small Towns Have Proved That Even Police Services Can Be Privatized," Reason magazine, November 1982.
  12. Reason Foundation, 2000 Annual Report, accessed October 1, 2013.
  13. The Geo Group, Inc., Historic Milestones, archived by the WayBack Machine on August 11, 2009.
  14. Marjorie Anders, “Domestic News—Private Prisons,” Associated Press, July 22, 1985. Reproduced also in Boca Raton News here, August 4, 1985.
  15. The GEO Group, Inc., Historic Milestones, archived by the WayBack Machine on August 11, 2009.
  16. Funding Universe (Lendio [2]), The Wackenhut Corporation History, accessed October 1, 2013.
  17. The GEO Group, Inc., Historic Milestones, archived by the WayBack Machine on August 11, 2009.
  18. Indiana Department of Corrections, Indiana Department of Correction Announces Finalized Contract Negotiations With The GEO Group, Inc., press release, accessed October 1, 2013.
  19. Beau Hodai, "Legacy of Corruption: GEO Buys Off the Florida Political Establishment," Prison Legal News, March 2011, pp. 1-12.
  20. Beau Hodai, "Legacy of Corruption: GEO Buys Off the Florida Political Establishment," Prison Legal News, March 2011, p. 8.
  21. Beau Hodai, "Legacy of Corruption: GEO Buys Off the Florida Political Establishment," Prison Legal News, March 2011.
  22. Dan Christensen, "Money, Politics and Bush’s Failed Plan to Name a Broward Loyalist U.S. Surgeon General," Broward Bulldog, November 6, 2009.
  23. Roger Caldwell, "Governor Scott and 85 Member Entourage Visit United Kingdom," Westside Gazette, July 26, 2012.
  24. Beau Hodai, "Private Prison Companies Behind the Scenes of Arizona's Immigration Law," Prison Legal News, accessed October 1, 2013.
  25. Greg Tyler, "Florida School Cuts Stadium Deal With Questionable Partner," Sports Digest, February 26, 2013.
  26. Michael Vasquez, "FAU President Mary Jane Saunders resigns," Miami Herald, May 15, 2013.
  27. Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, “Corporations and Trades Associations that Fund ALEC”, Corporate America’s Trojan Horse in the States: The Untold Story Behind the American Legislative Exchange Council, online report, 2003.
  28. Beau Hodai, Corporate Con Game: How the private prison industry helped shape Arizona's anti-immigrant law, In These Times, June 21, 2010.
  29. Al Shaw and Lois Beckett, Contributions from GEO GROUP, ProPublica, August 1, 2011.
  30. The GEO Group, Inc., Schedule 14A Proxy Statement, SEC filing, March 28, 2013.
  31. Jeff Ostrowski, "FPL Parent’s Chief Earns $33 Million, Highest Salary In Palm Beach County, Treasure Coast," Palm Beach Post (sub. req'd.), June 22, 2013.
  32. Jeff Ostrowski, "FPL Parent’s Chief Earns $33 Million, Highest Salary In Palm Beach County, Treasure Coast," Palm Beach Post (sub. req'd.), June 22, 2013.