Paul Quinn’s Weblog

News from Ole Miss and Oxford

Archive for June, 2008

Gas stealing on the rise, get a lockable cap

Posted by paulquinn on June 29, 2008

gas stealingOnly a few people out there are profiting from the high oil prices; those in the oil business and people stealing gas.

A friend from Houston, Texas said he left his car in the driveway with 25 gallons left in the tank, upon returning it was all gone. He went to Autozone to buy a lockable cap, but they were sold out.

A Google news search of gas stealing brings about 1,288 stories on gas siphoning.

Here is a report about farmers getting taken for hundreds of gallons.  The story also notes how people are buying gas caps due to the threat of losing 100’s of dollars worth of gasoline.

In Kentucky one man was charged with stealing 10,000 gallons worth. At $3.80 a gallon he stole $38,000 worth of gas. 

Some innovative thieves have even rigged a van for the purpose of siphoning gas. Very clever, but also quite telling. When people go to extremes to steal, bigger problems will follow.

I am sure the gas is for personal use, but is there a black market for gasoline? Will drug dealers and the MOB start bartering gas for illegal commodities?

The Wall Street Journal reports lower fuel costs in Mexico have created illegal activity on the border. The victims are the Mexican motorist. Gas is only $2.50 per/gal south of the border, and Americans are going in hordes for the cheaper fill-up. Now Mexican border towns are seeing less gas available for themselves. Wow the Mexican government is doing much better than the U.S., aren’t we supposed to be the developed nation and Mexico the developing one? Maybe we should learn something from a neighbors.

The WSJ reports the illegal activity occurs when people try and take more gas than they are allowed.

All of this is a boon for James Blue’s auto shop, located in a strip mall in the arid hills east of downtown San Diego. His business, Express Performance Center, installs extra-large fuel tanks in pickups and other work vehicles used for runs to fill up with cheap gas in Mexico.

The story explains later why this isn’t legal when the purpose is heading to Mexico with your newly added tank.

Crossing the border with fuel in a container that isn’t attached to a vehicle’s engine is illegal. California motorists routinely are sent back to Mexico and forced to empty unattached tanks spotted by U.S. border inspectors.

“It happened to someone who lives near me,” says Mr. Robinson, the Chula Vista plumber, who explains U.S. Customs agents at the border detained a neighbor of his when they spotted a 100-gallon container of diesel in the bed of his truck, then sent both driver and truck back to Mexico.

I doubt we will see any riots in the U.S. like those seen in Europe. But as people grow tired of not being able to afford gas, and stealing increases/continues, more might protest. Hopefully Americans can get through this without resorting to violence.

For those of you lacking a vehicle with a gas door release inside, or a lockable cap, you may be wise to get one. The thieves target those who are unprepared. 

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NPR talks with Boyer on Scruggs

Posted by paulquinn on June 29, 2008

NPR sits with The New Yorker writer Peter Boyer about Dickie Scruggs’ history, the case that made him bribe and the bribe itself.  Boyer wrote a profile of Scruggs in the May 19 issue of The New Yorker. He gives his own insight into Scruggs based on his research.

Here is the NPR recording.

 

Posted in Crime, Scruggs, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The case that made Scruggs bribe

Posted by paulquinn on June 27, 2008

Dickie Scruggs received the five year maximum sentence Friday for his role in trying to bribe Judge Henry Lackey. But how did a fee dispute case turn into a judicial bribery scandal?

Scruggs (among other things) did not like the original complaint against him because it made scurrilous remarks about him. Scruggs had Tim Balducci ask Lackey to throw out the accusations made by Jones and Funderburg attorney, Grady TollisonBalducci said to Lackey the fee dispute case should be sent to arbitration, and the accusations could be handled by summary judgement.

Tollison agreed there were scurrilous remarks in the original complaint, but said he could prove every single one of them.

So what did this complaint say? 

The Introduction is titled “The Greed of the Defendants”

This section explains what the Scruggs Katrina Group did,  along with the work done by Jones Funderburg. 

“After the performance of this work, the defendants (SKG), in concerted effort amounting to conspiracy, determined to ‘freeze out’ the Plaintiff (Jones and Funderburg) and reduce its proper share of the money,” the complaint reads.

The complaint explains who the different parties are and some facts of the case. Don Barrett, David Nutt, Scruggs, Sparky Lovelace and some others. 

Then the section entitled “The Scheme Begins” starts when Jones Funderburg first felt they were being short-changed.

“In December 2006 Don Barrett and Scruggs conspired among themselves to allocate Jones with a ridiculously low figure.”

Scruggs told Jones he would only receive 1 million dollars and nothing more. 

“Over the following three months the Defendants law firms and the individually named defendants attempted to bully and cajole the Plaintiff into taking less,” the complaint said. “These egregious acts were intended to cause and did cause extreme distress to the individual members of the Plaintiffs law firm.”

According to the complaint Jones and Funderburg asked for arbitration 20 times.

“The defendant Scruggs engaged in various activities such as the wrongful expenditures of funds belonging to the Joint Venture Agreement, including unauthorized hiring of personnel for Scruggs Katrina Group without approval of all members of SKG, and continued to do so without authority,” the complaint said.

In March 2007  SKG attorneys informed Jones and Funderburg their intent to force plaintiffs to take a sum determined by the other SKG attorney’s; or else Jones Funderburg would face immediate termination of all further involvement, the complaint says.

Jones asked SKG if they wanted to hear the basis of Jones’ legal authority, but was told such information was irrelevant, the complaint says.

The complaint then went on to say SKG attorneys told Jones Funderburg they had to answer before leaving the meeting. SKG attorneys relented allowing Jones Funderburg time to discuss the offer with their partners. But around 2 p.m. that same day an email sent to Jones by Barrett informed Jones they had 18 minutes to “call excepting (sic) my suggestion” or SKG would act accordingly.

Jones did not get the email until 4 p.m. that day and by this time SKG had already voted to remove Jones Funderburg.

The last pages of the 18 page complaint said Scruggs had repeatedly behaved this way, as did Barrett.

“Barrett and Scruggs wrongfully and illegally deprived the Plaintiff of property,” the complaint said. “A scheming cabal should not be allowed to succeed.”

Jones and Funderburg sought 20% for all past and future attorney fees collected by SKG. Punitive damages were also sought.  

The case is still ongoing Tollison said. Motions are being filed and Tollison is awaiting a November court hearing. 

Shortly after the case was filed Lackey was approached and the investigation began.  By November 28 2007 Scruggs and the four other conspirators were indicted, and in March 2008 the last three pleaded guilty.

The Bureau of Prisons awaits Scruggs’ arrival on August 4.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Scruggs case and the debate reporters vs. bloggers

Posted by paulquinn on June 23, 2008

Mississippi Public Broadcast reporter Sandra Knispel had a story this morning that delves into the issue of bloggers vs. reporters, she spoke with www.folo.us blogger Tom Freeland and David Rossmiller over at http://www.insurancecoverageblog.com/.

Both bloggers bashed print media and boasted how bloggers covered the Dickie Scruggs case far better than any newspaper covering the story.  While I can not deny bloggers were able to get news out faster than newspapers, I don’t really think bloggers have done a better job.

When someone decides to make a post on their blog they write it, maybe they read it and then put it on-line. There are no copy editor’s to revise posts, no editor to decide the newsworthiness of a story, and it tends to be very subjective.  A fact Rossmiller or Freeland admits to. News is supposed to influence public perception, but through reporting the facts and letting readers decide what they think. In my opinion blogs influenced people against Scruggs well before all the facts of the case came to light, whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? 

Because bloggers have nobody to answer to, getting news on the page can go much quicker. When it came to Scruggs news most stories were only mild updates discussing the latest motion in U.S. v. Scruggs.  News only a select few in Mississippi really cared about.  Yet when new motions were filed, and evidence released I know Scruggs reporters were sifting through the new information as fast as possible trying to figure out the general gist of the new information. We would be looking for quotes involving sweet potatoes, bodies buried, and other such incriminating news. Then we have to write the story, get it edited, and wait for the on-line guy to post it on the website (or wait to till 5 a.m. for the paper to get delivered).

While many people read the blogs and go to them first for Scruggs news, most people in Oxford simply didn’t care that much to go find the news on-line. People love picking up the paper and seeing all the different news as part of their day starter. Folks drinking a cup of coffee and reading the Daily Mississippian is a common place on the Oxford Square And students grab the paper so they have something to read while the teacher sets up for class.

My audience was not the 500 lawyers out there following the cases every twist and turn, it was the students faculty, and alumni at Ole Miss, and that’s who I wrote for. The 500 lawyers closely following the case would be an added bonus to my readership.  

Knispel called me up and interviewed me at her house last Thursday as part of her story. I have gone back and forth on the question blog or not to blog. What I decided was limit what you say on other blogs, so not to come across as an un-fair reporter, if it is an aspect of the case I am only covering for my blog its ok to write but do not go beyond the hard facts, and always keep breaking news to myself untill it hit the newsstands (all advice Knispel told me months ago).

The wise reporter/teacher/author Curtis Wilkie once told me blogs are the equivalent to talk radio and I tend to agree, let the bloggers talk and the reporters report. 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

Scruggs news: updates from a tired reporter

Posted by paulquinn on June 17, 2008

Recently while exploring the web I discovered Judge Henry Lackey won an award in his home town. The Calhoun County Journal Online reported Lackey received the Tom Cole City Spirit Award.

Donna Cole had this to say about Lackey:

“This past year the judge exhibited amazing courage by upholding the law of the land,” Cole said. “His actions raised the standard for his peers, showed the country that Mississippi does do right, and set an example for each of us, young and old, to follow.” 

More updates on this in the future.

Sentencing for Richard Scruggs is set for 10 a.m. Friday June 27 at the Oxford Federal Courthouse. Later that day Sidney Backstrom will be sentenced.

Something I have been wondering about is Backstrom’s objection to the pre-sentencing report.  If he plans to argue the benefit of the bribe is indeterminable, and the judge should only take into account the $50,000 when sentencing, how does this effect Scruggs’ sentencing hearing? It occurs before Backstrom’s and if the judge rules “yes only $50,000” how does he go back and re-sentence Scruggs? Does it even matter?

Zach Scruggs sentencing date will be on July 2 at 10 a.m.

We are still awaiting sentencing dates for Tim Balducci and Steve Patterson.

I have been trying to find any recent news regarding the investigation into Judge Bobby Delaugter and and former Hinds County D.A. Ed Peters, does anybody out there know anything?

I assume Joey Langston, who pleaded guilty in January to influencing Delaughter, won’t be sentenced until the DeLaughter/Peters investigation is complete.

Posted in bribing, conspiracy, Delaughter, Judge Lackey, Ole Miss, Presidential debate, Scruggs | Leave a Comment »

Scruggs news: co-conspirator says too much money

Posted by paulquinn on June 12, 2008

Sideny Backstrom has objected to the pre-sentencing report written by U.S. probation services. An objection filed Thursday said there is no way for Judge Neal Biggers to know how much money, if any, the Scruggs Law Firm, and those guilty of attempted bribery, stood to gain.

The Clarion-Ledger ran an AP story Thursday which said:

“Backstrom also objects to the report’s conclusion that the defendants’ “net benefit” from bribing Lackey was $5.3 million — or one-fifth of the $26.5 million in fees from a mass settlement of Hurricane Katrina insurance lawsuits.

Other lawyers who had worked with Scruggs on the settlement sued him for a greater share of the fees. Prosecutors claim Scruggs, his son, Backstrom and Balducci conspired to pay Lackey $40,000 in exchange for an order that would have sent that lawsuit to arbitration.
Backstrom argues that $40,000, not $5.3 million, is the amount that U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers should use to calculate a sentence in the criminal case.
“It does seem a bit harsh that they have chosen the amount of the dispute rather than the amount of the bribe,” said Dane Ciolino, a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans who reviewed the probation officials’ report.
Ciolino said the judge isn’t bound by the report’s conclusions or the sentencing guidelines, but he added, “As a practical matter, they still do follow them.”
The bribe was an attempt to have the case sent to arbitration, not for a ruling in how to split the $26.5 million. The difference between the two is huge when a judge looks at the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which are rules a judge generally follow when sentencing someone. There hasn’t been a response filed by the govt.

I imagine if the judges agrees with Backstrom, Dickie Scruggs, Tim Balducci, and Steve Patterson would all benefit. Scruggs son Zach pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of not reporting the illeagal activity.

Other issues at stake our weather Backstrom acted in a managerial role by directing bag-man Balducci during the course of the bribe. Backstrom is saying he was a go between and never told Balducci what to do.

The conents of the actual pre-sentence report hasn’t been made public.

Posted in Crime, Journalism, Scruggs, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Scruggs case puts Miss. in national spotlight

Posted by paulquinn on June 12, 2008

The Dickie Scruggs Saga didn’t start in Nov. 2007 when he and five others were indicted on conspiracy charges, headlines bearing Scruggs name are almost a past-time in Mississippi. Asbestos, tobacco, and Katrina all put Scruggs in the paper; now the bribe and the famed attorney’s methods are making headlines nationwide.

Thursday’s Wall Street Journal ran an anti-Jim Hood, Mississippi attorney general, editorial about Hoods accepting State Farm’s Katrina related files from Scruggs, who obtained the files from State Farm insider’s Cori and Kerri Rigsby. The Rigsby’s worked for insurance adjuster E.A. Renfroe a company contracted by State Farm to handle claims on coastal Mississippi post-Katrina.

The editorial is referring to a ruling by federal Judge William Acker costing Scruggs and the Rigsby’s $65,000. The ruling was covered by the WSJ (again), USA Today, and at least 100 more news websites and blogs.

In an article written by Peter Boyer, appearing in the May 19 edition of The New Yorker, Boyer writes 18 pages outlining Scruggs affiliation with Ole Miss, his past lawsuits, and the bribe attempt of Judge Lackey. Here is a teaser, the full story is only obtainable in print form or with subscription to The New Yorker.

When the sentencing date for Scruggs and two others was announced AP stories appeared on CNN and Forbes‘s Website.

The day Scruggs pleaded guilty stories were written by the New York Times, The LA Times, and ABC news.

Also, on the day he pleaded guilty The Wall Street Journal wrote several thousand words pertaining to the bribe and other Scruggs issues, it was released prior to Scruggs pleading guilty. The story can only be seen with an online subscription. Another teaser is on their website.

Two months after the indictment Nelson Schwartz, for the New York Times, wrote an extended feature outlining the saga of Scruggs up until that point.

When Scruggs was indicted for attempting to bribe Lackey the NY Times had the story, along with every other major newspaper in the country. Several days later, when Hillary Clinton cancelled a fundraiser at Scruggs house, New York magazine wrote about Clinton’s dilemma.

Before the bribe attempt Scruggs was in the media some but not like after November 28. Scruggs made national headlines when he won billions of dollars for Mississippi when he beat big tobacco. PBS’s Frontline had an interview with Scruggs about the lawsuit; the movie The Insider also portrayed the fight with tobacco.

There is the soon to come book being written by veteran reporter and Ole Miss Professor Curtis Wilkie.

Scruggs actions have been written about for almost 20 years, some good some bad. My only hope is Mississippi’s national attention is portrayed accuartley when the presidential debate happens in September.

Posted in Crime, Dickie Scruggs, Journalism, Mississippi, New York Times, Ole Miss, Presidential debate | Leave a Comment »

Ole Miss’s racial past documented

Posted by paulquinn on June 10, 2008

Ole Miss deals with race almost every year. Last semester it was rumble in the circle, when six female student’s escalating dispute resulted in a box cutter fight captured on youtube.

Here is a comment left on the DM’s story. Stan Jones wrote:

” As a proud Ole Miss alum, let me be the first to say way to represent our fine institution with class and grace….

They may do this type of garbage at Memphis State or at Alcorn, but it has no place here. A boxcutter??…hope they stick you under the jail?

Alcorn State and Memphis State are predominately black schools

In fall 2007 The DM’s Nicole Spinuzzi wrote about freshman Jeremiah Taylor being pushed down the stairs of the Deke house after being told there was a “racial rush list.”

Deke’s were eventually suspended.

While other racial incidents have happened since 2002, this next story, which appeared in Campus Report, a news service where “articles focus on three issues: the exploitation of the classroom or university resources to indoctrinate students; discrimination against students, faculty or administrators based on political or academic beliefs; and campus violations of free speech,” is an interesting look at what happened when several black students wrote racial slurs on some dorm room doors.

Sara Russo writes:

“When obscene and racist slurs were found scrawled on the dormitory doors of several black students at the University of Mississippi, administrators at the school wasted no time convening tolerance meetings and suggesting that federal hate crimes charges might be brought against the perpetrators. The national news media rushed to cover the story. One month later, when it was discovered that the graffiti artists were three black students, the University failed to file criminal charges against the culprits and penalized them with probation, community service, and research papers.”

The list could go on but I don’t want to be here all day.

Posted in Crime, Journalism, Ole Miss | Leave a Comment »

Mississippi right choice for Presidential Debate

Posted by paulquinn on June 10, 2008

While the Obama and McCain are out searching for the best vice president, Ole Miss and Oxford are prepping for the upcoming debate. 

Construction on University has become a headache but is looking good, new restaurants are opening up on the square, and journalist have visited to see how their team will cover Ole Miss’ historic weekend. 

I know the Daily Mississippian is thinking of story ideas and acquiring press passes for the few (if even) reporters and editors selected for on sight coverage (I have had my fingers crossed since the announcement was made in November 2007).

Ole Miss was selected as the first of three debates, of course we were all pumped when it happened, however the announcement made at least one city furious – New Orleans. The New York Time reports the story in November.  

Many in New Orleans were stung by the decision and said the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, which chooses the sites for the general-election debates, had unfairly sent a signal that New Orleans was still not ready for prime time. And they said politics had been at play because Republicans in particular did not want to have to confront the severe challenges that New Orleans poses.

“Members of the Commission on Presidential Debates continue to come up with preposterous excuses — some of them contradictory — as to why they snubbed New Orleans as a debate site,” an editorial in The Times-Picayune of New Orleans said yesterday. “No wonder New Orleanians think the process was rigged and three presidential candidates have criticized the decision.”

“The sense of outrage in New Orleans is very significant, from the state leadership to government to business,” said Arnold Fielkow, president of the City Council and former executive vice president of the New Orleans Saints. “We feel a wrong has been done, and we hope it will be corrected.”

The frustration in New Orleans was fueled by what many saw as a secretive process that turned its back on a chance to provide an eye-opening view of difficult issues that they want the candidates, and the nation, to address.

Sorry to say New Orleans but your not the only city in this country with problems.  Ole Miss has been recovering from our turbulent past for a lifetime, we still have some race issues and academic questions (easy to get in, low rankings for many  schools and Departments) but we are certainly “up with the times.” 

And the debate will only help address our remaining problems, quit being selfish and give us a break.

In the past 10 years Ole Miss has progressed more than the 100 years before, and its our time to prove to any doubters out there we aren’t as bad as we once were. (I still feel there are race issues on campus, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t improved ten-fold since even the 1980’s).

The historic significance of having the first major party black canidate here debating has also added symbolism to the Sept. 26 debate that NOLA just couldn’t have.

NOLA will still be recovering and dealing with Katrina (and new possible storms) in four years, but Ole Miss has come along way since 1960’s. Despite the racism I have seen (from NOLA natives as much as anyone) and written about it’s time for us to showcase what we stand for today.

One last time: you are not the all important Mecca of the world people should always be thinking about, I think history speaks for itself in why Oxford is a better choice than New Orleans.

Here is a link to everything Ole Miss presidential debate. Please go and explore this website. 

 

  

Posted in Journalism, New Orleans, New York Times, Ole Miss, Presidential debate | 2 Comments »

Mississippi Mud- A book review

Posted by paulquinn on June 7, 2008

*Contains no “spoiler” only plot hints made obvious by the author from the start of his book*

When a Biloxi judge and his mayoral candidate wife were killed in the 1980’s the Mississippi Gulf Coast was in the clutches of one of the worst mafias to grace our United States; or, at least that’s how award winning author Edward Humes portrays the Dixie Mafia in his 1994 masterpiece Mississippi Mud.

Humes’ non-fiction tale reads more like a James Lee Burke murder mystery than a factual account from the Pulitzer Prize winning author and reporter. Mississippi Mud is a serious whodunnit mystery eventually leading to arrests of Biloxi’s most well-known and liked men.  Humes writes about the last co-conspirator to go down in a final online chapter.

The book follows the life of orphaned daughter, Lynne Sposito, who turned investigator as she tracked down her parent’s murderers, receiving death threats and dealing with troubled teenagers along the way.

Understanding why Sposito’s parents were killed is essential to figuring out who killed the former criminal defense lawyer turned judge and his wife. Both lived lives conducive to making enemies.  

A picture of Biloxi and its seedy underworld where gambling, prostitution, drug-deals, and murder-for-hires occur while the police turn blind eyes for the right price, is painted by Humes in the second book of his 325 page four-part page turner. 

A career criminal who couldn’t catch a break on the outside manages to make millions of dollars scamming unsuspecting homosexuals from inside Angola Penitentiary in Louisiana. The why, the how, and the criminal’s defense in court warrant a full length novel; however, the book is a most scandalous murder mystery with twists and turns that don’t end untill the final online chapter.

How does every crime drama end? In court. And in true dramatic form the murder case against five co-conspirators unfolds at the end of Mississippi Mud. Old-fashion, high-priced Mississippi defense attorneys versus the Federal Government, who were determined they couldn’t win the unprecedented, seemingly outlandish case.   

If you’re wary Mississippi Mud will only entertain us “Mississippi folk” you’ll miss out on a fascinating enjoyable read any crime novel reader-mystery scandal solver-mafia lover-court room drama expert-southern history buff-aspiring investigative journalist would love.  

Posted in Biloxi, Book review, Crime, Dixie Mafia, Edward Humes, Journalism, Mississippi Mud | Leave a Comment »