Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, the Mississippi lawyer who spearheaded legal settlements with tobacco firms that provided $206 billion to 46 U.S. states, was sentenced to the maximum five years in prison Friday for trying to bribe a judge.
Scruggs, 62, whose firm made hundreds of millions of dollars on the tobacco cases, pleaded guilty in March to conspiring to pay a $40,000 bribe to a state judge.
That judge handled a lawsuit on how to divide $26.5 million in legal fees from an $89 million settlement with State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. over claims from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“You committed … the most reprehensible crime a lawyer can commit, which is the corruption of a judge,” said U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers at a hearing in federal court in Oxford, Miss.
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The judge also ordered Scruggs to pay a $250,000 fine and serve three years of supervised release after prison. “I could not be more ashamed to be where I am today, mixed up in a judicial bribery scheme,” Scruggs told Biggers before sentencing. “I deeply regret my conduct. It's a scar and a stain on my soul forever.”
The judge recommended the Bureau of Prisons assign Scruggs to a minimum-security prison in Pensacola, Fla.
Scruggs must report there by Aug. 4.
Biggers suggested Scruggs might reduce his term if he cooperates with prosecutors probing payments to non-lawyers in tobacco-fee litigation.
Scruggs, son Zach and partner Sidney Backstrom were charged by federal prosecutors last year with conspiring to pay Mississippi Judge Henry Lackey $40,000 to assign the legal-fee case to an arbitrator. All three pleaded guilty.
Prosecutors also charged former Mississippi state auditor Steve Patterson and lawyer Tim Balducci. They pleaded guilty and cooperated with prosecutors.
Scruggs gained fame for negotiating the tobacco settlement in 1998 based in part on information provided by former tobacco company scientist Jeffrey Wigand.
The case was memorialized in the movie “The Insider” starring Russell Crowe and Al Pacino, which used Scruggs's home as a set.
The conspiracy to bribe the judge started after Scruggs was sued over legal fees in the State Farm case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Dawson said.
Balducci met with Lackey in March 2007 and asked him to consider resolving the case in Scruggs's favor, Dawson said. Balducci agreed to pay $40,000 to Lackey, who secretly cooperated with prosecutors.
Balducci later recorded Scruggs discussing an additional $10,000 payment, Dawson said.