As the top lawyer for America's biggest private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Gus Puryear IV is known to sport well-pressed preppy pink shirts, and his brownish mop of hair stands out among most of President Bush's graying nominees to the federal bench. A favorite of G.O.P. hard-liners, Puryear, 39, prepped Dick Cheney for the vice presidential debates — both in 2000 and 2004 — and served as a senior aide to two former Senators and onetime presidential hopefuls, Bill Frist and Fred Thompson.
Political connections, though, may not be enough to get Puryear a lifetime post as a federal district judge in Tennessee. Puryear recently confronted tough questions about his conduct, experience and potential conflicts of interest from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which must approve him before a full Senate vote. Now, a former CCA manager tells TIME that Puryear oversaw a reporting system in which accounts of major, sometimes violent prison disturbances and other significant events were often masked or minimized in accounts provided to government agencies with oversight over prison contracts. Ronald T. Jones, the former CCA manager, alleges that the company even began keeping two sets of books — one for internal use that described prison deficiencies in telling detail, and a second set that Jones describes as "doctored" for public consumption, to limit bad publicity, litigation or fines that could derail CCA's multimillion-dollar contracts with federal, state or local agencies.