Noted Miss. attorney pleads guilty to mail fraud

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ABERDEEN, Miss. (AP) -- A noted anti-tobacco attorney jailed for conspiring to bribe a Mississippi judge pleaded guilty to mail fraud Tuesday in a second bribery scheme.

Richard "Dickie" Scruggs admitted he was involved in a scheme to entice a judge to rule in his favor in an asbestos case by promising he'd be appointed to the federal bench with help from Scruggs' brother-in-law, former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott.

Scruggs, who already is serving five years in jail, was to be sentenced later Tuesday. Federal prosecutors recommended a sentence that would tack two years onto that term, and it could be reduced if he testifies in a later case.

"Mr. Scruggs' cooperation has opened several doors," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Norman.

Lott, who talked to Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter but ultimately recommended someone else, has not been accused of wrongdoing.

Scruggs, 62, gained national prominence and earned hundreds of millions of dollars in the 1990s with a case that led to a multibillion-dollar settlement from tobacco companies. His efforts were portrayed in the 1999 film "The Insider" starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe.

But his star fell last year when he admitted conspiring to bribe another Mississippi judge in a dispute over $26.5 million in legal fees from Hurricane Katrina insurance cases. He was disbarred and is serving a five-year sentence in a federal prison in Kentucky.

Prosecutors were pointed to the asbestos case by Scruggs associates who pleaded guilty in the Katrina case. DeLaughter, who has said he did nothing wrong, has not responded to numerous messages left by The Associated Press.

Scruggs' former lawyer, Joey Langston, has pleaded guilty to trying to influence DeLaughter on Scruggs' behalf.

Langston claims he directed $1 million to former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters to help persuade DeLaughter to rule in Scruggs' favor. The government has seized $425,000 from Peters, which is all they say is left after taxes and stock market losses. He has not been charged and has not returned calls for comment.

DeLaughter once worked for Peters as an assistant district attorney. They made headlines in 1994 by successfully prosecuting Byron de la Beckwith for the 1963 assassination of Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers. The case was portrayed in the 1996 movie "Ghosts of Mississippi." DeLaughter wrote a book about the trial.

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