Scruggs scheme co-conspirator receives prison of choice

By John O'Brien | Jul 17, 2008

The federal prison in Forrest City, Ark.

OXFORD, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - It was obviously never Sidney Backstrom's wish to be sentenced to prison, but he was recently sentenced to the prison he wished.

Backstrom, who pleaded guilty with famed plaintiffs attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs in March to attempting to bribe a state judge, received notice Monday that he will be serving his 28-month sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution Satellite camp in Forrest City, Ark.

During his June 27 sentencing, Backstrom, 39, asked to be placed at the facility because of its proximity to his wife's family. He will begin his time there Aug. 4.

He was also fined $250,000 and ordered to pay the costs of his imprisonment.

Backstrom, a former member of the Scruggs Law Firm, was seen as the more emotional between he and Scruggs on March 14, the day both pleaded guilty to the scheme.

Backstrom offered an apology that day, something Scruggs did not do.

"I would like to express my profound apologies for my involvement," Backstrom said during his sentencing.

Scruggs first made a name for himself in asbestos cases, representing shipyard workers. After that, his work led to the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, which has an estimated worth of $246 billion for the 52 participating territories and states.

After 2005's Hurricane Katrina, he grouped together a handful of law firms to create the Scruggs Katrina Group. The group represented insurance policyholders who believed their insurance companies were misrepresenting the amount of damage done to their properties by wind (covered by the policy) and water (covered by a federal program).

More than 600 cases were settled early in 2007, earning the SKG $26.5 million in attorneys fees. John Griffin Jones filed suit against Scruggs, claiming his firm was shortchanged when the money was divided.

Scruggs admitted that he gave the go-ahead for attorney Timothy Balducci to offer $50,000 to Lackey for a ruling that would have sent the dispute to an arbitration panel. Balducci pleaded guilty in November to the scheme, and his business partner Steven Patterson, a former state Auditor, soon followed.

Lackey contacted the FBI soon after Balducci's first mention of a bribe. Scruggs agreed to a maximum prison sentence of five years, pleading guilty to a conspiracy charge while the other five were dropped.

Son Zach pleaded guilty misprision of a felony, meaning he knew about the scheme but did nothing to prevent it. He was sentenced to 14 months in prison despite recommendations for probation from both sides.

Both Scruggses asked U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers to be placed in a federal corrections facility in Pensacola, Fla.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at john@legalnewsline.com.

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