Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman was sentenced to more than seven years in federal prison and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy got nearly seven years Thursday in a bribery and corruption case that the judge said damaged public trust in state government.
Supporters of both men had testified at their sentencing hearing, describing the positive impact they have had in Alabama during their careers, as attorneys pleaded with U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller to show mercy.
“While it is true the good far exceeds the bad, I must impose a fair punishment to reassure all that come before this court that justice is blind,” Fuller said in sentencing Siegelman.
Both men were immediately taken into custody after the judge denied defense requests to let them remain free while they appeal.
The two once-prominent figures in politics and business were escorted out of the courtroom by U.S. marshals and were not allowed to talk to family members. Scrushy’s family cried quietly in the courtroom. Siegelman’s wife, Lori, left immediately.
Asked by reporters about her husband’s sentence and being immediately taken into custody, she said, “I expected it.” She got into her car without further comment.
Siegelman was fined $50,000 due immediately and ordered to pay $181,325 in restitution to a state agency where prosecutors said kickbacks were made. He is to perform 500 hours of community service when his sentence of seven years, four months is completed.
Scrushy was fined $150,000 due immediately, plus ordered to pay restitution of $267,000 to United Way of Central Alabama. He also was ordered to perform 500 hours of community service after serving six years and 10 months in prison.
Both are to be on supervised release for three years when their terms end.
'Send the message'
Fuller had increased the possible sentence range for Siegelman to more than 15 years earlier Thursday and left Scrushy’s possible range at eight to 10 years. But he was not bound by the guidelines. Prosecutors asked for 30 years for Siegelman and 25 for Scrushy, while the defense pleaded for probation for both.
Siegelman, 61, and Scrushy, 54, were convicted last year of bribery, conspiracy and mail fraud. The government accused Siegelman of naming Scrushy to a hospital regulatory board in exchange for $500,000 in donations to Siegelman’s 1999 campaign for a state lottery for education. The defense contended there was no quid-pro-quo or personal benefit.
Siegelman also was convicted of obstruction of justice for trying to hide money given by a lobbyist for a motorcycle. The defense contends it was a legitimate transaction and not as depicted by prosecutors.
Prosecutor Joseph Fitzpatrick urged Fuller to hand down a stiff punishment.
“It will send the message that if these people can be sent to prison, it certainly can happen to a local politician,” he said.
Siegelman wiped at tears as he asked the judge for mercy, apologizing to the people of Alabama but denying he took a bribe from Scrushy.
“Your honor, I am not a perfect person, but I am a good person. I have made mistakes. I have done some stupid things and some dumb things,” he said. “Judge, you can decide whether I die in prison or go home to my family. Your honor, I ask you for mercy. I ask you to send me home.”
'Sometimes good men do bad things'
Scrushy, who earlier introduced the judge to his nine children, motioned to them during his final statement.
“God has blessed me with this family. It does concern me greatly the effect on my family if I am placed in prison,” Scrushy said.
Fitzpatrick, a prosecutor in the Alabama attorney general’s office who has worked with the federal prosecution on the case, acknowledged that both Siegelman and Scrushy have done good things for the people of Alabama.
“But your honor, sometimes good men do bad things and sometimes bad men do good things,” he said.
Earlier Thursday, Fuller signaled a prison term awaited both as he refused to reduce the guidelines and instead increased them.
“I am convinced the conduct Gov. Siegelman engaged in damaged the public’s confidence in the government of this state,” Fuller said.
'Height of hypocrisy'
Attorney Susan James told Fuller she is concerned about Siegelman’s safety if he is given a lengthy sentence, pointing out that as a former Alabama attorney general and governor he has a history of pushing for tough anti-crime legislation and for fighting against parole for some prisoners. She said that at his age, “the rest of his productive life will be wasted while he’s in prison.”
But chief prosecutor Louis Franklin said Siegelman deserved a harsh sentence partly because of his tough stance against crime.
“To say that when someone takes a harsh stance and then turns around and commits a crime they should be given lenient punishment, that’s the height of hypocrisy,” Franklin told Fuller.
Siegelman was a state Democratic Party official in Birmingham when he was elected secretary of state in 1978. He soon became one of the state’s most popular politicians, eventually serving as attorney general and lieutenant governor before being elected governor in 1998.
Scrushy founded a small health care company in Birmingham in the early 1980s that would grow into HealthSouth Corp., one of the nation’s leaders in outpatient surgery and rehabilitative health care.
He was fired as a $1.7 billion accounting scandal was uncovered, but he was acquitted of criminal charges in the fraud by a federal court jury in Birmingham in 2005. Siegelman also had criminal charges against him dismissed after a federal judge in Birmingham struck down key evidence in an alleged Medicaid fraud case.
One of Siegelman’s attorneys, Robert Blakey, gave Fuller a list of former governors of various states who have been convicted of crimes but given sentences lighter than what Siegelman would receive according to the guidelines.
The governors included former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in a racketeering case, and former Alabama Gov. Guy Hunt, who received probation after being convicted in 1993 of spending money from a tax exempt inaugural fund for personal items.