Trent Lott's Brother in Law, Nephew Indicted on Bribery Charges
Sen. Trent Lott's brother-in-law and nephew, both lawyers, were indicted for bribing a state court judge in an effort to obtain a favorable ruling in a case involving Hurricane Katrina claims.
Prominent Mississippi trial attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, the brother-in-law of outgoing GOP Sen. Trent Lott, was indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday on charges that he and four ther men tried to bribe a Mississippi state court judge. According to the 13-page indictment, Scruggs and three other attorneys -- including Lott's nephew Zach -- attempted to bribe Mississippi Third Circuit Court Judge Henry L. Lackey with at least $40,000 in cash.
Lackey was assigned to hear a lawsuit in which Scruggs' firm was named as a defendant in a dispute involving $26.5 million in attorneys' fees stemming from a court settlement with State Farm Insurance over Hurricane Katrina claims. The indictment alleges that the bribe was intended to resolve the case in Scruggs' and his firm's favor.
What does this have to do with Trent Lott? Maybe nothing. Or....[More]
The Indictment(text here, pdf) contains quotes of numerous incriminating telephone conversations. One example:
[Brother in law Scruggs] later represented hundreds of Gulf Coast homeowners -- including Lott -- whose claims were denied by insurance companies in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Lott's home in Pascagoula was destroyed by the storm.
Between September 27 and November 1, Balducci allegedly made three cash payments to Lackey, returning from the last meeting with a court order favorable to the defendants. "We paid for this ruling; let's be sure it says what we want it to say," Balducci told Zach Scruggs and Backstrom, according to the indictment.
The Judge tipped off the F.B.I. and cooperated, presumably agreeing to tape his calls with the defendants. I suspect the F.B.I. also got a wiretap on Scruggs' or his co-defendants' phones, since there are several calls described in the Indictment that don't involve Judge Lackey.
Getting a wiretap on a law firm's telephone is unusual -- particularly due to the substantial and cumbersome minimization efforts required to ensure that calls of clients and lawyers unrelated to the criminal investigation are not overheard.
It will be interesting to see how Scruggs' and the other defendants decide to defend the case...if it's by challenging a wiretap, the case will probably go on a year or more. If they think their goose is cooked, there will probably be early pleas. And, of course, any one of them could turn on the others in exchange for leniency in his own case. Stay tuned.
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