Scruggs informers’ sentencing set Feb. 13

Published 1:49 am Sunday, January 25, 2009

Two Mississippi men who have admitted their involvement in the bribery scandal that toppled famed tort attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, will be sentenced Feb. 13.

Ex-attorney Timothy Balducci and former Mississippi Auditor Steven A. Patterson pleaded guilty to charges and implicated Scruggs and others in a scheme to bribe Lafayette Circuit Judge Henry Lackey. Lackey was presiding over a dispute between Scruggs and other lawyers over $26.5 million in legal fees from Hurricane Katrina litigation when the conspiracy was hatched, authorities say.

Balducci and Lackey were old friends, and Scruggs and the others hoped to use that relationship to gain an unfair advantage in the case, prosecutors say. When Balducci approached the judge with a bribe “overture,” Lackey contacted the FBI.

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Federal agents set up surveillance and instructed Lackey to ask for $40,000. Balducci delivered the cash in several installments and on his last visit, he was arrested.

FBI agents fitted Balducci with a wire and sent him to Scruggs’ office in Oxford to implicate several others. Balducci told Scruggs the judge wanted another $10,000 and recorded a conversation in which the men discussed a proposed order.

Patterson was caught discussing the case in intercepted phone calls.

Guilty pleas came eventually from Scruggs, his lawyer son Zach, and their law partner, Sidney Backstrom.

Scruggs is serving five years in a federal prison in Kentucky on a conspiracy charge. Zach Scruggs was sentenced to 14 months for knowing about the crime and not reporting it and Backstrom is serving 28 months for conspiracy.

It was the biggest bribery scandal in Mississippi in years, and it may not be over.

Scruggs’ attorney, Joey Langston, pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe another judge on Scruggs’ behalf. His sentencing has been postponed so he can cooperate in the investigation.