Scripps heir convicted of stealing family money

Michael Scripps could get seven years.
Michael Scripps could get seven years.
Posted: April 14, 2013

A scion of the Scripps media family was convicted in Philadelphia on Friday of fleecing his mother and mentally disabled uncle of $3.6 million, cash he spent on cars, jewelry, and a playboy lifestyle for himself and two women - one a stripper, the other a porn star.

Michael Scripps, 36, did not flinch as a Philadelphia jury declared him guilty of fraud charges that could send him to prison for at least seven years, or as U.S. District Judge Legrome D. Davis ordered him immediately to jail.

Absent from the courtroom was the most critical, if reluctant, witness in the two-week trial: Scripps' mother.

Melissa Scripps testified that her son persuaded her to let a friend, a Delaware County financial adviser, manage trust funds for herself and her brother, and then schemed to raid the accounts at will.

"I don't want anyone else to go through what we've been through as a family," Melissa Scripps told jurors.

Scripps is a boldface name in large swaths of the country, the family behind Scripps College and the Scripps Oceanography Institution in California and E.W. Scripps, a conglomerate that owns newspapers, television stations, and sponsors the national spelling bee.

Michael Scripps grew up in Michigan, where his great-great grandfather-- a half-brother to E.W. Scripps--founded the Evening News Association, a media company that included the Detroit News and the Vineland (N.J.) Times Journal, and was sold in the 1980s for more than $700 million. It had no ties to the E.W. Scripps Co., which remains a major publishing company today.

The trial offered a glimpse into extravagant spending that nearly crippled his wing of the family, so much so that the judge reminded jurors that their task was to decide whether a crime occurred, not whether someone had "squandered, in a profound way, their lives."

Scripps' mother said she got $11 million in the media company's sale. David Scripps, her mildly autistic older brother, for whom she served as legal guardian, got more. (The defense maintained that the siblings' take was closer to $100 million.)

Now 62, Melissa Scripps admitted frittering away much of the fortune. She spent more than $1 million on world cruises for herself and her family. She had her dogs flown by private jet to her second home on the Caribbean island of St. Martin, and bought two of Princess Diana's dresses, a Napoleonic tiara, and $1,000 teddy bears. She smokes marijuana daily, she told jurors, and has been married four times.

Michael Scripps had his own six-figure trust fund, plus a $3,900 monthly allowance from his mother. But it wasn't enough, prosecutors said, and he became resentful.

"Michael thought his mom was spending too much money, she was spending his inheritance," Assistant U.S. Attorney Linwood C. Wright told jurors in closing arguments Wednesday.

In 2002, Michael Scripps took his mother, uncle, and a friend to an Atlanta strip club, where champagne flowed and dancers entertained them in a private room. Their bill: $90,000.

Melissa Scripps said she had no idea about the cost at the time and was not prepared for what her son did when her trust advisers asked about the expense in a meeting months later: He showed them a compromising photo of her with a dancer at the club.

She was so embarrassed, she said, that she did not resist when her son suggested moving the trust accounts to Merrill Lynch, where his college classmate Richard "Duke" Gleeson was a budding financial adviser.

Gleeson, based in Media, was elated to land the account. "It put him on the map," Assistant U.S. Attorney Terri Marinari told jurors. "He would do anything that Michael Scripps wanted."

Testifying for the government, Gleeson and his assistant described how Scripps directed more than 500 transfers from his mother's and uncle's accounts into his over the next three years. The case was prosecuted in Philadelphia because the crimes occurred in Pennsylvania.

Prosecutors also asserted that Scripps forged his mother's and uncle's signatures on documents and siphoned more cash from them after arranging a new mortgage and home-equity credit line on their home in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Much of the money was spent on two women. Scripps' ex-wife Anna told jurors she was a stripper when she met Scripps, then a Loyola University student, in New Orleans in the late 1990s. He showered her with jewelry and gifts, and had her move with him to Chicago.

But in 2003, Scripps secretly began dating Jenna Bearden, an adult-film star who performs under the name Kiki Daire.

Bearden testified that Scripps gave her diamond earrings and a diamond necklace, and took her to Las Vegas, the Kentucky Derby, and on a Caribbean cruise. He also rented a Memphis apartment for her, gave her a credit card, and funded her college tuition, overseas trips, and breast-enhancement surgery.

According to Bearden, Scripps, who has an MBA degree, said he earned his money by managing his mother's financial affairs.

Melissa Scripps uncovered the thefts in 2006, when she noticed an unexplained $40,000 withdrawal from her brother's account. That was just weeks after she had refused a request for an identical amount from her son. He wanted, he said, to buy himself a Napoleonic sword for his birthday.

Then she began poring over her brother's statements and discovered hundreds of withdrawals, Melissa Scripps said.

Bearden, who later legally changed her last name to Scripps, told jurors that that was around the same time her relationship with Scripps began to fracture. She recalled an argument in a New Orleans apartment one night when Michael Scripps pulled out a gun and told her the money had dried up.

"He held it to his head," she said, "and he told me to call his mother."

Michael Scripps did not take the witness stand, but his lawyer argued that his mother knew and had long given him permission to withdraw and spend family money as he needed.

The lawyer, Michael Dezsi, suggested that Michael Scripps was investing the money in a real estate company he started with his mother's blessing.

Dezsi said Melissa Scripps ultimately sacrificed her son to the FBI to save her own fortune. In 2008, he noted, Merrill Lynch agreed to pay $5.8 million to settle the fraud, but required Melissa Scripps to report what happened to federal authorities.

"They had to make a criminal out of somebody to protect themselves," Dezsi argued.

Gleeson pleaded guilty over the summer. His sentencing has not yet been scheduled.

The judge scheduled Scripps' sentencing for July 15. Dezsi asked that Scripps, who has a new wife and infant daughter, be allowed to remain free on bail, but Davis denied the request.

"I have absolutely no comfort with how your client behaved," the judge said. "My perception of the gentleman is that he's not entirely certain that the law applies to him."

Minutes later, two deputy U.S. marshals entered the room, handcuffed Scripps, and led him away.

Contact John P. Martin at 215-925-2649,, or follow @JPMartinInky on Twitter.

This story has been changed with the following information: 

Michael Scripps grew up in Michigan, where his great-great grandfather - a half-brother to E.W. Scripps - founded the Evening News Association, a media company that included the Detroit News and the Vineland (N.J.) Times Journal, and was sold in the 1980s for more than $700 million. It had no ties to the E.W. Scripps Co., which remains a major publishing company today.

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