Scruggs Sentenced To Five Years In Bribery Scheme

OXFORD,
Miss. (AP) — Richard ”Dickie” Scruggs, who became one of the
wealthiest civil lawsuit attorneys in the country by taking on tobacco,
asbestos and insurance companies, was sentenced Friday to five years in
prison for conspiring to bribe a judge.

Scruggs, 62, nearly
fainted as the judge scolded him for his conduct, and people in the
courtroom gasped as he swayed side to side. He had to be seated for a
time before the sentence was read, but later stood back up.

U.S.
District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. called Scruggs’ conduct
”reprehensible” and fined him $250,000. Scruggs will also lose his
law license. The judge handed down the full sentence requested by
prosecutors despite arguments from the defense for half that time in
prison.

”I could not be more ashamed of where I am today, mixed
up in a judicial bribery scheme,” Scruggs told the judge. ”I have
disappointed everyone in my life.”

Scruggs was indicted in
November along with his son and a law partner after an associate wore a
wire for the FBI and secretly recorded conversations about the bribe
plan. Prosecutors said he wanted a favorable ruling in a dispute over
$26.5 million in legal fees from a mass settlement of Hurricane Katrina insurance cases.

Biggers
said that after reviewing evidence, including the secretly recorded
conversations, ”it made me think perhaps this was not the first time
you did this because you did it so easily. And there is evidence before
the court that you have done it before.”

Prosecutors are looking
into another alleged bribery conspiracy in which Scruggs is accused of
trying to influence a different judge in a dispute over legal fees from
asbestos cases. Scruggs’ former defense attorney has pleaded guilty in
that case and is cooperating with investigators.

Scruggs gained
fame in the 1990s by using a corporate insider against tobacco
companies in lawsuits that resulted in a $206 billion settlement. That
case was portrayed in the 1999 film ”The Insider” that starred Al
Pacino and Russell Crowe.

He
initially denied wrongdoing in the bribery attempt case. But in March,
Scruggs and former law partner Sidney Backstrom pleaded guilty to
conspiring to bribe Lafayette County Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey
with $50,000.

”You picked the wrong man to try to bribe,” Biggers said of Lackey, who reported the bribe attempt to authorities.

Backstrom
was sentenced Friday to two years and four months in prison and fined
$250,000. Biggers said he was impressed that Backstrom seemed
remorseful about his role in the case.

”I cannot say that I have seen that kind of remorse from your co-defendants,” the judge said.

Scruggs’
son, Zach Scruggs, pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony, meaning he
knew a crime was committed but didn’t report it. He is scheduled to be
sentenced next week.

U.S. Attorney Jim Greenlee called the case
”profoundly sad” but declined to comment further because the
investigation is ongoing.

Scruggs’ former defense attorney, Joey
Langston of Booneville, has pleaded guilty to trying to influence Hinds
County Judge Bobby DeLaughter in the asbestos fee case by promising
that Scruggs could help DeLaughter get appointed to the federal bench
with the help of U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, Scruggs’ brother-in-law.

Scruggs and the others have not been charged in that case.

Scruggs must report to prison by Aug. 4 and pay the fine within 30 days.

He
asked to serve his time at the federal prison camp in Pensacola, Fla.,
the same minimum security prison where another prominent Mississippi
attorney and Scruggs associate, Paul Minor, is serving an 11-year
sentence for bribing two state court judges.

Many high-profile
friends had sought leniency for Scruggs in letters to the federal
judge, including Former ”60 Minutes” producer Lowell Bergman and
tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand, both portrayed in ”The Insider.”

Scruggs left the red brick courthouse without comment and drove away with his family and attorney.

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