Scruggs sentenced to five years in prison - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Scruggs sentenced to five years in prison

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, the attorney who built his career by taking on tobacco, asbestos and insurance companies, was sentenced Friday to five years in prison for conspiring to bribe a judge.

U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. called Scruggs' conduct "reprehensible" and fined him $250,000. The judge handed down the full sentence requested by prosecutors despite arguments from the defense for half that time in prison.

Scruggs appeared to nearly faint as the federal judge scolded him for his conduct. Some people in the courtroom gasped as Scruggs started to sway side to side and his attorney grabbed his arm to steady him. He had to be seated before the sentence was read.

"I could not be more ashamed where I am today, mixed up in a judicial bribery scheme," Scruggs told the judge.

Scruggs must report to prison by Aug. 4 and pay the fine in one lump sum within 30 days.

Scruggs gained fame in the 1990s by using a corporate insider against tobacco companies in lawsuits that resulted in a $206 billion settlement. That case was portrayed in the 1999 film "The Insider."

Scruggs was indicted in November along with his son and a law partner after an associate wore a wire for the FBI and secretly recording conversations about the alleged bribery.

Scruggs initially denied wrongdoing. But in March, Scruggs and former law partner Sidney Backstrom pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe Lafayette County Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey with $50,000.

Prosecutors say Scruggs wanted a favorable ruling in a dispute over $26.5 million in legal fees from a mass settlement of Hurricane Katrina insurance cases.

Scruggs' son, Zach Scruggs, pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony, meaning he knew a crime was committed but didn't report it. He is to be sentenced next week.

Many high-profile friends had sought leniency for Scruggs in letters to the federal judge, including Former "60 Minutes" producer Lowell Bergman and tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand, both portrayed in "The Insider."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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