Playboy gets 9 years for fleecing mom, uncle

Michael Scripps took $3.6 million from two relatives.
Michael Scripps took $3.6 million from two relatives.
Posted: July 17, 2013

A scion of a well-known publishing family was sentenced Monday to nine years in prison for stealing $3.6 million from his mother and mentally disabled uncle, money he used to finance a playboy lifestyle that included trips, jewels, and gifts for a stripper and a porn star.

At a hearing in Philadelphia, U.S. District Judge Legrome D. Davis turned aside requests for leniency and instead gave Michael Scripps a punishment at the very top of the recommended sentencing range.

Davis said he was baffled how a man born into immense wealth could fleece his own mother and uncle, a mildly autistic man who trusted him.

"It's wrongful conduct of the highest degree," the judge said.

Scripps, 36, grew up outside Detroit. His mother and uncle got as much as $100 million in the 1980s when their family sold the Evening News Association, publisher of newspapers including the Detroit News and the Vineland (N.J.) Times Journal.

The company's founder, James E. Scripps, was a half-brother to E.W. Scripps, who launched a separate media company that still operates under his name today. But the siblings were not partners and the companies are not related.

Melissa Scripps was the primary, if reluctant, witness against her son at his trial. She acknowledged frittering away much of her fortune. She liked world cruises, collected $1,000 teddy bears and a tiara worn by Napoleon's sister, and had her dogs flown by private jet to her home in St. Maarten. She also admitted smoking pot every day for decades.

Her son had the same hard-partying tastes as his mother, and prosecutors contended that his $250,000 trust fund and $3,900 monthly allowance were not enough.

When his mother rebuffed his requests for more money, testimony showed, Scripps schemed to get access to her account and one she controlled for her mentally disabled brother, David Scripps. Michael Scripps persuaded her to move the accounts to Merrill Lynch, where Richard "Duke" Gleeson, a former classmate of his from Loyola University in New Orleans, was a budding financial adviser working in Media, Delaware County.

Between 2002 and 2006, the evidence showed, Scripps directed Gleeson and an underling to make about 500 transfers from his mother's and uncle's accounts into his. He also arranged to refinance their Bloomfield Hills, Mich., home, then pushed the home into foreclosure by drawing hundreds of thousands of dollars in credit against it.

Scripps used some of the money to buy properties in New Orleans. He also withdrew $1 million in cash.

Scripps' ex-wife, Anna, told jurors she was a stripper when she met Scripps in New Orleans in the late 1990s and he showered her with gifts and persuaded her to move with him to Chicago. In 2003, Scripps also began dating Jenna Bearden, an adult-film performer who acts under the name Kiki Daire.

He bought Bearden diamonds, paid the rent on her apartment, and financed her travels and studies in Europe. They never married, but Bearden has legally changed her name to Jenna Scripps.

Scripps' lawyer, Michael Dezsi, argued at trial that Scripps wasn't stealing but just mirroring the wild and unchecked spending that had been common practice in the family. He contended that Melissa Scripps reported the loss and initiated the FBI investigation in 2008 only as a condition of a financial settlement she reached with Merrill Lynch over the fraud.

At the sentencing, Dezsi pleaded for leniency, dismissing the incidents as aberrant behavior from a once-spoiled rich kid who grew up in a dysfunctional family. Dezsi said Scripps has since become a hardworking businessman and devoted husband and father. He submitted dozens of supportive letters from Scripps' friends, clients, and even a prison guard.

"Since he's been estranged from his family, my client has led a very stable and productive life that he built for himself," Dezsi said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Terri A. Marinari, a prosecutor in the case, said Scripps never apologized for the crime, expressed remorse, or repaid a dime.

"There's a lot of people who come from dysfunctional families," she said. "But it's no license to commit a crime."

Scripps did not testify at his trial and declined another chance to address the judge.

That left Davis with no answer to a nagging question: What causes an otherwise intelligent, thoughtful, and skillful man to steal from his own mother and disabled uncle? It was probably "something deeper" and "immensely perplexing," the judge said.

He hoped his sentence would convince Scripps "that none of us are different," Davis said. "We are all answerable."

The judge also sentenced Gleeson, 37, to a year and a day for his role in the fraud.


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

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