U.S. District Court documents filed Tuesday show DeLaughter will change his not-guilty plea on Count 5 of his Jan. 6 indictment, which also accuses him of allowing himself to be bribed and of mail fraud connected to documents in a legal-fees lawsuit against Scruggs.
The fate of the other charges was not immediately known.
The change-of-plea hearing is set for 2 p.m. before Judge Glen H. Davidson in the Aberdeen federal courthouse.
Friday, several witnesses for DeLaughter’s Aug. 17 trial arrived in Oxford – Scruggs, former Booneville attorney Joey Langston and former state Auditor Steven Patterson of New Albany. They are serving federal prison time for guilty pleas in at least one judicial bribery scheme.
The plea could pre-empt the trial.
Speculation has swirled for weeks about whether DeLaughter would be offered a deal or if the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oxford would insist the case go to trial.
DeLaughter, 55, pleaded not guilty to all counts during a Feb. 12 arraignment, two days after Scruggs pleaded guilty to the bribery conspiracy and mail fraud charges.
The accusations stem from a legal-fees lawsuit, Wilson v. Scruggs, which is still active in Hinds County. It also is the subject of a newer federal lawsuit.
In those actions, attorney W. Roberts Wilson seeks fees he says he deserves from collaborating with Scruggs on national asbestos lawsuits years ago. In the federal suit, Wilson also claims Scruggs and others used his fees to bankroll other national lawsuits that brought in hefty returns to Scruggs and associated attorneys.
DeLaughter was accused of doing Scruggs’ bidding in the Hinds lawsuit in hopes Scruggs would get his brother-in-law, then-Sen. Trent Lott, to maneuver him a nomination to a federal judgeship.
This is the case to which Langston pleaded guilty in early January 2008. He is serving prison time in Alabama.
If convicted on all five counts, DeLaughter faced a maximum 85 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines.
Count 5, which says he lied to investigators, carries a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The DeLaughter case was Scruggs’ second guilty plea in a judicial bribery scandal.
Scruggs was sentenced to extra time in a Kentucky federal prison for his DeLaughter plea, added to the five years he received in an attempt to bribe Circuit Judge Henry Lackey over another legal-fees lawsuit in 2007.
Patterson also pleaded guilty in that case.
Notice of Thursday’s change-of-plea hearing came about 3 p.m., followed a few minutes later by minutes of a conference call between DeLaughter’s attorneys and assistant U.S. Attorneys prosecuting the case.
Among the witnesses expected to testify at trial was DeLaughter’s ex-boss, former Hinds District Attorney Ed Peters, who Langston and Scruggs said they paid $1 million to get DeLaughter’s cooperation.
Others included Lott and Scruggs co-conspirator, former New Albany attorney Timothy Balducci, also serving time in the Lackey case.
Late Tuesday, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons listed Balducci “in transit,” which means he’s being held somewhere other than a holding center. He is not in the Lafayette County jail, its administrator said.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org.