A federal grand jury investigating the expanding judicial bribery scandal questioned witnesses today about political operative P.L. Blake — who earned $50 million from the state’s tobacco settlement by clipping newspapers and assessing political activity for chief negotiator Dickie Scruggs.
“I assume prosecutors have been eyeing Mr. Blake as a target for some time,” said Matt Steffey, professor at Mississippi College School of Law.
Blake, a former Mississippi Delta farmer now living in Birmingham, is being investigated in connection with an unsuccessful scheme to bribe a Lafayette County judge hearing a legal-fees dispute involving Scruggs, who along with others has pleaded guilty in the bribery case.
Former State Auditor Steve Patterson — who pleaded guilty in the case and was seen going inside the grand jury room today — would not comment. Neither would Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Norman.
Scruggs and his former law partner, Sidney Backstrom, are both being held in the Lafayette County Jail, not far from the federal courthouse where the grand jury is meeting.