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Two-year sentences for Scruggs' co-conspirators

By Legal News Line | Feb 13, 2009



OXFORD, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - Former Mississippi Auditor Steven Patterson and attorney Timothy Balducci each received a two-year prison sentence Friday for their roles in the judicial bribery scheme of famed plaintiffs attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs.

Both had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bribe an elected state official and cooperated with federal prosecutors. Balducci wore a wire and had his phone tapped for the government in order to collect evidence against Scruggs and the members of his law firm.

U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers imposed a $150,000 fine on Patterson and also ordered him to pay the costs of his own incarceration. Pre-sentencing reports showed Balducci could not afford the same punishment.

Biggers, though, said Patterson could afford the punishment because his report showed he received $80,000 a month from Mississippi's settlement with tobacco companies despite not being a lawyer. The same settlement earned Scruggs his notoriety in the 1990s.

The two will report to prison March 25. Patterson asked to be incarcerated in Montgomery, Ala.

Federal prosecutors noted Balducci's complete cooperation with their investigation, but Biggers said it would have been hard for him not to considering he was caught on tape making the initial bribe to Lafayette County Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey.

Balducci collected evidence throughout 2007, leading to the indictments Scruggs, his son Zach and law partner Sidney Backstrom.

Scruggs pleaded guilty to attempting to bribe Lackey with $50,000 in exchange for a ruling that would send his dispute with a former business partner to arbitration. Scruggs received five years for the scheme.

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.

The case, and Scruggs' work, was depicted in the Al Pacino/Russell Crowe film "The Insider."

Balducci represented the State of Mississippi in its case against MCI that led to a $100 million settlement.

Joey Langston, for whom Balducci used to work, received a three-year prison sentence in another of Scruggs' bribery schemes.

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

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