Dickie Scruggs got a lot accomplished on Friday. In addition to generating tens of thousands simultaneous web hits that took down multiple servers (Y’allPolitics included), Dickie seems to have laid the groundwork to cut a pretty good deal.
By pleading guilty on Friday to conspiracy to commit bribery, which carries a maximum 5 year penalty, Dickie accomplished a couple of important things. First, he contained the damage of the Lackey matter. If recent history is any indication, federal judges seem to be having very little sympathy for lawyers bribing judges. Scruggs’ buddy (from ICEPAC days) Paul Minor got 11 years for bribing state court judges on the coast. When viewed in a bubble, five years to dispose of the Lackey matter is a good deal, and it is possible that the judge will sentence him to less than the maximum . . . but not likely.
Almost as important as containing the damage is that this may serve to get Dickie off the front page of the newspapers and from the top three minutes of the local TV news. The feds were wielding press coverage like a dagger, and were getting their information out in the public domain about the damning evidence they had with remarkable efficiency. As everyone knows, there is more to this story, and Dickie is not out of the woods yet. There is still the matter in Hinds County, to which Joey Langston has already pleaded guilty. Scruggs’ deal in the Lackey case does not protect him from indictments in other subsequent investigations . . . a fact that the US Attorney made crystal clear during the plea colliquy. Having all of the sordid details about other possible infractions play out for Dickie on the front page as the Lackey matter did does not bode well for his ability to legally posture with the feds through his lawyers on any other outstanding criminal liabilities.
And then there’s Zach
Zach Scruggs is in a pretty vulnerable place right now. He is set to go to trial in two weeks (March 31). Everyone else in the case, including his father, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy. This is doubly problematic for Zach. First, he has no leverage. There’s no one else to give up. He is the last rat on the ship. Second, Backstrom and Balducci will testify against him as their sentences may well depend on the disposition of Zach’s case.
I personally think it is highly unlikely that Zach will go to trial. Even if the evidence might be less than what the government had on Backstrom, with the testimony of Backstrom and Balducci, it’s probably enough to convict. If Zach goes to trial and loses, he could wind up doing more time than anyone in this whole saga. I just don’t see that happening.
The government had Dickie dead to rights. Had he gone to trial and been found guilty, his sentence would likely have been fifteen years. He now has contained the damage to five, and that’s a good deal.
On Friday, the Clarion Ledger reported that Zach had cut a deferred prosecution deal and that he would give up his law license, but no one knew where that information came from. It certainly was not mentioned in court nor referred to in any of the court documents from Friday. The article mentioned that Dickie was reached by phone, but had no comment. The Clarion Ledger later on Friday and into the weekend seem to recant on that report and is now saying that Zach is still scheduled for trial with no deal. Could it be that the hand was tipped about what was in store? I find it impossible to believe that Dickie, with his million dollar lawyers, would have opted to leave Zach in that impossible position. If we come to find in the next day or so that Zach does indeed get a deferred prosecution deal pending cooperation from other players, I think we will know where it came from.
My guess? I think it’s entirely plausible that Dickie Scruggs is preparing a profer to the feds for the rest of what he has, and already has a handshake deal with the feds with regards to Zach. If he is extremely cooperative he could (1) get Zach’s status in the best possible shape it could be in and (2) possibly contain his jail time the the five years he is already on the hook for.
Assuming that Zach gets taken care of in the next few days, the only question is . . . what could possibly be next? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to follow the bouncing ball toward Ed Peters and possibly even Judge Bobby DeLaughter. With Joey Langston taken care of and Dickie Scruggs’ fate at least partially sealed, there just seems to be too many loose ends not to tie up with regards to that line of the investigation.
But will it end there? Who knows . . . but we’ll be here to see it all through.