of loose lips and sinking ships – and Balducci’s “extraordinary cooperation”

Talented reporter Alyssa Schnugg has often compensated for the delayed reporting of the afternoon publishing schedule of the Oxford Eagle with a more complete story than the morning papers.  Unfortunately, her story of the sentencing of Tim Balducci stops short of an explanation for Balducci’s “immediate cooperation” and fails to question what “wrong” he is attempting to “right”.

Timothy Balducci and Steven Patterson both appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Neal B. Biggers this morning at the Federal Courthouse in Oxford.

Both men pleaded guilty a year ago to a charge of conspiring with Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, his son and attorney Zach Scruggs and his law partner Sidney Backstrom to bribe Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey with $40,000 for a favorable ruling in a lawsuit against the elder Scruggs involving legal fees in Hurricane Katrina related litigation.

During Balducci’s sentencing hearing, U.S. Assistant Attorney Bob Norman told the judge that his department had never seen such “complete cooperation” from another defendant…“His cooperation was immediate,” Norman said. “He’s doing the best he knows how to do to right the wrong he has done.”

What Paul Harvey would introduce as ” the rest of the story” comes from the unlikely source of Rossmiller’s Blog in addition to other transcripts of recorded conversations and court proceedings in USA v Scruggs.

Without Rossmiller’s archived posts, there might be no current mention of the conversation between Tim Balducci and Judge Lackey concerning a bribe in a second, unrelated matter, a DUI manslaughter case. It certainly didn’t come up in Balducci’s sentencing or related commentary; but, it is documented in the transcript of the November 1, 2007 recorded conversation.

BALDUCCI :  … I think I’ve got a good theory. I think I can get the legs cut out of this beforehand, gimme twenty grand to do it, and if he does, then I thought me and you could split it and we could, you know, we could get it taken care of.

LACKEY :  We can do that.

Balducci, of course, had no idea the FBI was recording his conversation and waiting to confront him when he arrived at Judge Lackey’s.  While no available records document the conversation from his arrival to his “immediate cooperation,”  we later learned that “cooperation”  included an “immediate” trip to Oxford where, wired by the FBI,  he engaged Scruggs, Scruggs and Backstrom in a consensually recorded conversation.

His “loose lips” provided the evidence needed for the indictment and, subsequently, were the sinking ship of their defense in USA v Scruggs as well as the additional charges against Dick Scruggs and indictment of Judge Bobby DeLaughter.

For the more of that story, we turn to the transcripts of court proceedings.  First, we revisit the comments of attorneys John Keker and Frank Trapp quoted in the recent post, Mississippi’s just us justice, and call attention to  Trapp’s final remark:

And having said that, Your Honor, we would – – with that predicate, if you will, with respect to the factual basis – -not disputing that would be Mr. Balducci’ s testimony; but to the extent I just stated, Your Honor, we disagree with the factual basis.

Next, we make a trip by the courtroom for this observation, also quoted in a recent post.

Judge Biggers asked questions heading toward the fact that Joey Langston has pled guiltyto bribery relating to that- at one point saying that he hoped the government had facts to establish bribery, given that guilty plea.

Moving from the courtroom back to the November 1 recorded conversation between Balducci and Judge Lackey, we pick up a previously overlooked set of remarks:

LACKEY :  Alright. Well uh, what do you think, what do you think about the attorney general’s race? Is HOOD gonna pull it?

BALDUCCI :  I think he’s gonna pull it out. I think it’s tightening up, but I, I think it’s tightening up. Um, I think he’s gonna, I think he’s gonna pull it out.

LACKEY: Uh-huh

BALDUCC: But uh. . .

LACKEY : Maybe we can get that, maybe you can get that tit out of JOEY’s mouth…

A little over two months later, the only thing in Langston’s mouth that’s documented is his confession to the bribe that resulted in last week’s indictment of Judge DeLaughter and the additional charges against Dick Scruggs.

One can’t help but wonder what would have happened had Balducci not offered Judge Lackey a bribe in the Minor case with the FBI listening and recording documentation beyond dispute but easily forgotten – or, perhaps, not so easily forgotten and the “wrong” he has been trying to make “right” starting with his “immediate cooperation”.

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