Emerging Faces In Federal Bribery Cases - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Oxford 01/16/08

Emerging Faces In Federal Bribery Cases

By: Marsha Thompson
marsha@wlbt.net

Dickie Scruggs managed to delay the inevitable today, making a federal court appearance in Oxford. A flurry of new discovery motions were heard. The big news is a federal judge has agreed to postpone Scruggs trial. 

Multi- millionaire trial lawyers Dickie Scruggs...who's fortune was built on asbestos and tobacco lawsuits and his California law team emerged from Federal court Wednesday with little to say. Defense attorneys say Federal prosecutors used tainted evidence against Scruggs and maintain Scruggs was not aware that attorney Timothy Balducci allegedly offered to bribe a Circuit Judge. Scruggs, his son, and law partner Sidney Backstrom pleaded not guilty to judicial bribery charges. But a house of cards is in the offing. We will try to unravel the complex cases by connecting the dots as the Federal case emerges. 

Lawyer Timothy Balducci is the first to cop a guilty plea. Conspiring to bribe a Lafayette Circuit Court judge. 40 grand allegedly in exchange for a ruling favorable for Scruggs. Scruggs reportedly stood to give up 26 million to other Katrina litigation lawyers. Next Scruggs former attorney Joey Langston, who's law office was raided by the FBI.  Flips. He pleads to federal charges.  Admitting conspiracy to influence a judge in a separate scheme. Tuesday former State Auditor Steve Patterson cops a guilty plea, cooperating with federal investigators while admitting he was a "co-conspirator" in connection with the Judge Lackey bribe. In Patterson's words..."the cat was out of the bag."

Another connection, court papers indicate Langston and Patterson allegedly tired to influence a different state judge in a 1994 case. Scruggs stood to lose millions in asbestos litigation money. Remember Balducci's infamous words, during a taped conversation with Judge Henry Lackey. "Over the last five or six years there are bodies buried that (Scruggs) and I know where they are." Langston admits to Federal investigators between 2006 and July 2007 he, Patterson and former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters allegedly split 3 million dollars to sway Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter. Langston was after a favorable ruling for Scruggs....15 million reportedly on the line. In 2005, a Federal judge ruled one lawyer  in the asbestos attorneys fee battle with Scruggs was due more than 17 million. About a year after that, Judge DeLaughter ruled the other law partner was due no more than 1.5 million Scruggs already had paid him. Patterson, Scruggs, Peters and DeLaughter are not charged in this emerging Federal case.

Court documents reveal a new behind the scenes player with a troubled past. We dug up archive files from 1988. Headline: Greenwood man must pay 1.5 million dollars to FDIC. That man is P.L. Blake. The federal charges: conspiracy to induce Mississippi Bank officers to take 500-thousand dollars in bribe money. In return, Blake got some 21 million in preferential loans. He also got off with 3 years probation and a 5 thousand dollar fine.

Fast forward to 2008. Blake's name surfaces in Federal Court in Oxford, Mississippi again Tuesday. Allegedly one of the participants in on Judge Henry Lackey's judicial bribe case. Not indicted, but reportedly well-connected to Scruggs.

Court documents reveal Blake allegedly received 50 million from the massive tobacco settlement. His job reportedly clipping newspaper articles and monitoring political activity for the powerful lawyer. Another face in a complex web of scandal linking some of Mississippi's most powerful and politically connected players.

Dickie Scruggs trial is now set for march 31st. The court papers unsealed Wednesday indicate that Scruggs plans to blame Balducci and the judge for attempting to link him to wrongdoing. Scruggs' attorneys argue that Lackey, who reported the bribery overture to authorities and cooperated with investigators, "created the alleged crime by suggesting, urging and constructing a bribe."  To support their argument, Scruggs' lawyers cite several passages from a series of conversations between Balducci and Lackey that investigators taped without Balducci's knowledge.  In the court papers, defense attorneys say Balducci "specifically distances Scruggs from the process" when he delivered $20,000.00 in cash to Lackey on Sept. 17, 2007.  Later, according to Scruggs' lawyers, Balducci tells Lackey that Scruggs is "not involved in a direct manner, doesn't want to be, doesn't need to be. You take comfort in knowing this is between you and me."

Defense lawyers say prosecutors didn't mention those exchanges when they asked for permission to wiretap phones usedd by Balducci and former state Auditor Steve Patterson.

During the hearing, Scruggs  attorney John Keker didn't mention any plans to seek a dismissal of the charges against Scruggs; Scruggs son and law partner, Zach and Scruggs associate Sidney Backstrom, who is also a lawyer.

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