Noted Miss. attorney pleads guilty to mail fraud

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

By HOLBROOK MOHR, Associated Press Writer


ABERDEEN, Miss. — 

A noted anti-tobacco attorney jailed for conspiring to bribe a Mississippi judge pleaded guilty to mail fraud Tuesday in a second bribery scheme.

Richard "Dickie" Scruggs admitted he was involved in a scheme to entice a judge to rule in his favor in an asbestos case by promising he'd be appointed to the federal bench with help from Scruggs' brother-in-law, former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott.

Scruggs, who already is serving five years in jail, was sentenced Tuesday to a seven-year term that will run at the same time, basically adding two years to his sentence. He was also fined $100,000.

Scruggs' name was also removed from a sealed indictment that has not been made public. U.S. Attorney Jim Greenlee declined to give details about it.

Scruggs, who was in leg-irons and wore a dark suit during the hearing, told the court that the first time he pleaded guilty he had vowed to come out of the ordeal a better man, a pledge he renewed Tuesday.

"I acknowledge and own up fully to my role and responsibility," Scruggs told the court. "I'm going to do everything I can to make it as right as I can. I'm going to cooperate fully with federal authorities."

U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson told Scruggs he had recently read a saying he thought was fitting: "The Romans had a proverb that money was like sea water. The more you drink, the thirstier you become."

Scruggs, who was led out of the courthouse in an orange jumpsuit and shackles, did not acknowledge reporters as he was loaded into a white van with dark-tinted windows.

Lott, who talked to Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter but ultimately recommended someone else, has not been accused of wrongdoing.

Scruggs, 62, gained national prominence and earned hundreds of millions of dollars in the 1990s with a case that led to a multibillion-dollar settlement from tobacco companies. His efforts were portrayed in the 1999 film "The Insider" starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe.

But his star fell last year when he admitted conspiring to bribe another Mississippi judge in a dispute over $26.5 million in legal fees from Hurricane Katrina insurance cases. He was disbarred and is serving a five-year sentence in a federal prison in Kentucky.

The judge recommended he be moved to a prison closer to his Oxford home to be near family and the federal authorities investigating the bribery case. Scruggs asked to be sent to the same Arkansas prison where his son is jailed for knowing about the Katrina bribery scheme and not reporting it.

Prosecutors were pointed to the asbestos case by the Scruggs associates who pleaded guilty in the Katrina case, including former Mississippi Auditor Steve Patterson, who awaits sentencing.

DeLaughter, who has said he did nothing wrong, has not responded to numerous messages left by The Associated Press.

Scruggs' former lawyer, Joey Langston, has pleaded guilty to trying to influence DeLaughter on Scruggs' behalf.

Langston claims he directed $1 million to former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters to help persuade DeLaughter to rule in Scruggs' favor. The government has seized $425,000 from Peters, which is all they say is left after taxes and stock market losses. He has not been charged and has not returned calls for comment.

DeLaughter once worked for Peters as an assistant district attorney. They made headlines in 1994 by successfully prosecuting Byron de la Beckwith for the 1963 assassination of Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers. The case was portrayed in the 1996 movie "Ghosts of Mississippi." DeLaughter wrote a book about the trial.

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