Richard Scruggs is usually the guy asking people tough questions and getting witnesses to spill the beans. But today Miami-Dade's veteran public corruption prosecutor was on the receiving end of an intense grilling. And he was not enjoying himself.
It went down inside the courtroom of Judge Beatrice Butchko in the Miami-Dade criminal justice building at 1351 NW 12th Street. The man putting the screws on Scruggs was Michael Tein, the criminal defense lawyer representing Rev. Gaston Smith, who is facing grand theft charge for allegedly stealing $17,000 in county grant money.Tein accuses Scruggs of prosecutorial misconduct in Smith's case.
During several hours of testimony this afternoon, Scruggs's answers went from terse to angry. At one point he growled: "Mr. Tein will you calm the rhetoric please."
He repeatedly denied he acted with malicious intent when he waited a month to inform Smith and Smith's other criminal defense attorney that a Miami-Dade police detective had secretly recorded two conversations they had with Scruggs and investigators before the clergyman was indicted.
Tein zealously quizzed Scruggs if he ever informed Smith that he was a criminal target during the pastor's interviews before he was arrested.
"No, no, no, no," Scruggs grumbled. "You got that!"
Scruggs disputed comments attributed to him by Miami New Times staff writer Gus Garcia-Roberts in this profile of Smith. He claims he never told Garcia-Roberts Smith had rejected a plea deal in exchange for his testimony against suspended Miami city commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones. (Scruggs is prosecuting her for allegedly stealing $50,000 in county funds.)
Scruggs also denied telling Garcia-Roberts that he had reported Smith to the Internal Revenue Service for possible tax evasion. "Absolutely not," Scruggs said under oath. "I don't recall talking about taxes at all."
Judge Butchko appeared skeptical. She asked: "So how would the reporter know that if he didn't get it from you? Is the reporter clairvoyant?"
Scruggs' reply: "I don't know." He said that alot during his inquisition. And the assistant state attorney conceded that he did tell Garcia-Roberts that Smith "was caught with his hand in the cookie jar." But he claimed it was off the record.
Then Scruggs revealed something that just made no sense. When Tein asked him why he didn't complain to New Times editor Chuck Strouse or demand a correction, Scruggs says he decided not to because "no one reads this stuff anyway."
Tein: "No one reads the New Times?"
Scruggs: "Yeah, Uh-huh."
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You can read Smith's motion to dismiss his case, the state's response and the secretly recorded transcripts below: