Scruggs Said to Plan Guilty Plea in Second Judicial Bribe Case

Feb. 9 (Bloomberg) — Richard Scruggs, the Mississippi lawyer who wrested $206 million from tobacco firms in a nationwide Medicaid settlement, is to plead guilty to attempting to bribe a judge, two persons familiar with the case said.

The conviction would be Scruggs’s second for judicial bribery in less than a year. The plea, which the people said may happen as soon as this week in Mississippi federal court, stems from a guilty plea last year by Scruggs’s own lawyer, Joey Langston, the people said. Langston was convicted of conspiracy in the attempted bribery of Mississippi Judge Bobby DeLaughter.

Scruggs asked Langston to approach DeLaughter with the promise that he would be considered for a federal judgeship if he ruled in their favor in a suit over legal fees, Langston alleged at his plea hearing. A special master had recommended DeLaughter rule for the lawyers suing Scruggs in the dispute, said plaintiffs’ lawyer Charles Merkel.

Scruggs, 62, was sentenced in June to five years in prison for conspiring to pay $40,000 to another Mississippi judge, Henry Lackey in Calhoun City. Lackey presided in a separate legal fee suit against Scruggs, who settled on undisclosed terms.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Norman said at the court hearing last year that resolution of the first bribery case allowed his office to “ramp up” the investigation of the second one.

Scruggs’s current defense lawyer, John Keker, didn’t return a call or e-mails seeking comment.

Second Bribery Attempt

The alleged second bribery attempt was revealed when Langston pleaded guilty last year in federal court in Oxford, Mississippi, where he detailed the alleged conspiracy. Langston claimed Scruggs promised a total of $3 million to him and two other men, one allegedly being an unnamed associate of DeLaughter. The money represented what Scruggs would save if DeLaughter ruled in his favor in the fee dispute, Langston claimed.

Langston was sentenced to 36 months in prison and is scheduled to begin his term next month. Scruggs is serving his sentence in an Ashland, Kentucky, federal prison, according to court records.

Assistant U.S. attorneys Norman and Thomas Dawson didn’t return calls seeking comment. Langston didn’t return a call to his office in Booneville, Mississippi, seeking comment.

DeLaughter never received any money from Scruggs, according to Langston’s guilty plea.

Scruggs’s brother-in-law is former U.S. Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi. Lott didn’t nominate DeLaughter to the federal bench. A Lott spokesman had said DeLaughter received only a “courtesy call.” The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance put Delaughter on interim suspension. DeLaughter didn’t object, court spokesman Beverly Kraft said at the time.

DeLaughter didn’t return a phone call placed to his home.

A former assistant district attorney in Jackson, DeLaughter is best known for securing the conviction of Byron de la Beckwith for murdering black civil rights activist.

The first case is U.S. v. Scruggs, 07cr192, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Mississippi (Oxford).

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