Zach Scruggs says he's innocent, wants guilty plea gone

John O'Brien Aug. 19, 2010, 12:41pm


OXFORD, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - The son of disgraced plaintiffs attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs wants the guilty plea he entered in his father's judicial bribery scheme to be vacated.

Zach Scruggs, who worked with his father before both were sent to federal prison, submitted papers Thursday to U.S. District Court that claim he received inadequate representation from attorney Tony Farese and was forced to enter his guilty plea.

Scruggs pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony -- knowing of the bribery scheme yet not reporting it -- after being charged as part of an alleged conspiracy in 2007.

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal first reported Scruggs' motion.

"In the two years since Movant pleaded guilty, the legal and factual landscape has altered fundamentally," Scruggs says.

"First, the United States Supreme Court struck down the application of the honest services fraud statute to all cases except those where the government can prove that the defendant participated in a scheme of bribery or kickbacks."

Scruggs also says federal prosecutors claimed the testimony of attorney Joey Langston, who represented Dickie Scruggs in a case at the center of another judicial bribery scheme, would implicate Zach Scruggs.

"Additionally, David Sanders, formerly an assistant United States attorney assigned specifically to Movant's prosecution, and Mr. Langston have filed sworn affidavits stating that, contrary to the government's Feb. 21, 2008 representation to the Court (which the Court relied upon in three orders), Mr. Langston would not have implicated Movant in the Delaughter/Wilson matter after all," Scruggs says.

Scruggs alleges Farese secretly negotiated a plea for Langston and Dickie Scruggs while he was his attorney in 2007.

The two Scruggses, attorneys Sidney Backstrom and Timothy Balducci and former state Auditor Steven Patterson were charged with attempting to bribe Lafayette County Circuit Judge Henry Lackey with $50,000 for a favorable ruling in a dispute over Hurricane Katrina attorneys fees.

All five pleaded guilty, and Dickie Scruggs received a five-year prison sentence.

In the case Zach Scruggs says Langston was supposedly going to implicate him, Balducci teamed with Langston to represent Dickie Scruggs in another fees dispute.

It is alleged that the two paid $1 million to former Hinds District Attorney Ed Peters, who used to work with Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Bobby DeLaughter, to bribe the judge with the promise of a federal judgeship.

Dickie Scruggs pleaded guilty to the scheme, receiving an extra 2 1/2 years in prison. Langston received three years when he pleaded guilty to the scheme.

Farese responded to Zach Scruggs' allegations to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.

"Zach Scruggs is a young man who had everything, but is now a convicted felon who cannot accept responsibility for his own criminal conduct," Farese wrote to the paper.

"He has nothing but time and money to try to blame others for his unethical and illegal acts."

Dickie Scruggs gained notoriety when his work helped lead to the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, which has an estimated worth of $246 billion for the 52 participating territories and states. Mississippi is not one of them, but has its own separate agreement.

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