Let’s just say I had an interesting start to my day in Aberdeen, Mississippi. I arrived about 11:00 a.m. While going through security, I see Dickie Scruggs shackled, orange-jumpsuit-and-all, being loaded on an elevator by Marshals only a few feet away. That’s the first time I had ever actually laid eyes on Dickie in person.
As we all know by now, Dickie Scruggs pleaded to a one count information of mail fraud involving the corrupting a public official from providing “honest services” to the State of Mississippi. That count carried a maximum penalty of 20 years/$250,000 fine.
The courtroom was a full house with the normal cast of characters. A few interesting notes. John Keker and Jan Little represented Scruggs with Oxford attorney Mike Watts along for the ride. Mike is with the firm of Holcomb Dunbar and was along for the ride as local counsel. Interesting, Scruggs and Mike’s partner Jack Dunbar have quite a history. He was an interesting choice, but it was speculated by those I spoke with that Mike was one of the few guys that would work for Dickie that had any rapport whatsoever with the US Attorneys office in Oxford. Noticably absent was Mike “Tom Hagen” Moore who has reportedly been at most of the Scruggs criminal court proceedings.
Both before and after the hearing, Dickie worked the courtroom with a strained smile inasmuch as it was practical to do so wearing leg irons under a business suit. He actually looked better than I expected. He seemed resolved to his fate and wasn’t shaky and didn’t look overly frail.
As court was brought to session, the first order of business was to waive indictment and read the information in open court (which will be posted as soon as it’s freed up on PACER). Bob Norman had the honors. It basically went through how Joey Langston got Scruggs to hire Peters for an ultimate fee of $1,000,000 to influence Ed Peters. They also mentioned that Scruggs contacted “his brother in law, a US Senator”. After the information was read, Scruggs agreed to a plea deal negotiated between his attorneys and the US Attorney’s office. In it, he would get seven years that would be served concurrently with his existing 5 year sentence. HOWEVER, he would get no credit for the six months he has already served.
The sentencing happened after a short recess and the judge confirmed that Scruggs would get 84 months (7 years), effectively starting today. He was fined an additional $100,000 and was not given the opportunity for parole. The US Attorneys office, at its sole discretion, could make a downward departure for sentencing at a later time depending on his ongoing cooperation. Judge Davidson said restitution was not appropriate as that matter was already being litigated civilly in Wilson vs. Scruggs 2.0.
A few other very interesting tidbits . . . The Government agreed not to pursue additional asset forfeiture. Also, the Government stated that Scruggs had been given a polygraph exam and was “cooperating fully” with the ongoing investigation. The Government also stated that Dickie was functionally being given “use immunity” to intice him to tell them everything he knows about any illegality. In other words, what Dickie gives the feds cannot be used against him in the scope of the investigation. This was a shrewd piece of lawyering by the US Attorneys office and has largely gone unnoticed in the media reports. Of course, there are no restrictions to what the State of Mississippi can pursue.
Part of the agreement was to also request a transfer from the Kentucky facility that Scruggs has been housed in for “humanitarian” reasons (I assume alluding to Dianne Scruggs’ health) and ease of access by investigators to Scruggs. He requested to be assigned to Forrest City, Arkansas. After a few awkward moments of wrangling, the Judge stated that he would be willing to request “a facility closer to the Northern District”. Keker pushed Davidson to request Forrest City. Davidson ultimately relented (though his suggestion is non-binding) but said he could just as easily wind up in Millington, TN or Yazoo City. One attractive feature about Forrest City (besides the fact that Sid Backstrom and his son Zach Scruggs are there) is that it does not have an “airstrip”. No, I’m not kidding. The reason is that Dickie is a licensed pilot and Bureau of Prisons regulations forbid housing inmates at locations with landing strips.
Now, it was Scruggs turn to address the court. Courtesy of Tom Freeland, Dickie said the following . . .
“When I stood before Judge Biggers, I made a promise to him that I would try to be a better man. I spent a lot of time thinking about that pledge under circumstances few in this courtroom can imagine. I hope that what I am doing today is a major step toward redeeming that pledge. … I apologized to bench and bar for this sordid business.”
Scruggs also went on to say that will continue to “cooperate fully” and that he has “made a large down payment on cooperation already”. Scruggs was most definitely contrite and it seems that six months in “the hole” had changed his tune substantially.
Judge Davidson commented on the sadness of the case and how bewildered he was about its circumstances. He quoted Barclay when he said “Money is like seawater . . . the more you drink, the thirstier you become”. Candidly, I think drawing Davidson was a blessing for Scruggs this go-round. It was obvious that Judges Biggers and Mills were mad as wet hens at the shenanigans that Scruggs had pulled during his first plea and subsequent legal wrangling. Davidson was measured and calm and all-business.
Then the bombshell. Immediately before the gavel fell on the proceeding, Bob Norman asked that Scruggs name be removed from the list of names on the sealed indictment (09cr002 – currently “sealed”). There was an audible gasp. Following the proceeding, US Attorney Jim Greenlee greeted reporters outside the courthouse for a brief statement saying that the balance of the indictment will be unsealed “shortly”.
In a matter of days, we will know who else is involved in this phase. It is not a stretch to say that it is likely that Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Bobby DeLaughter’s name is on the sealed indictment. However, there would appear to be other names. There are a couple of people who, if indicted, would mean that “all bets are off” and this investigation could go absolutely anywhere.
We’ll know “shortly”.