Don Siegelman, Former Alabama Governor, Indicted
Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy have been re-indicted by federal prosecutors for a racketeering case going back seven years.
Federal prosecutors in Alabama have re-indicted two of the state’s most recent high-profile defendants, former Gov. Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth Corp. founder Richard Scrushy. The indictments announced Wednesday, which included two other former state officials, accuse the men of belonging to what the government called a “widespread racketeering conspiracy.”
The charges come five months after Scrushy was acquitted of masterminding a $2.7 billion accounting fraud at HealthSouth. They also may complicate Siegelman’s campaign to reclaim the governorship next year.
The charges were first brought against Siegelman and Scrushy in May, but were filed under seal so Scrushy’s trial in the fraud case wouldn’t be disrupted. Siegelman, who was governor from 1999 to 2003, was charged with racketeering, fraud, bribery, extortion and obstruction of justice. The former governor was expected to turn himself in later this week. A spokesman for Scrushy said he would have a news conference Thursday in Birmingham to address the allegations.
Siegelman, a Democrat, called the probe a political witch hunt by Republican prosecutors, saying the charges were made by “obsessed government officials who spent millions in tax dollars in a pathetic attempt to control the election for governor.”
Noel Hillman, chief of the Justice Department’s public integrity section, denied the allegation. “This case has nothing to do with politics. Public integrity does not do politics,” he said.
In all, Siegelman is accused of soliciting more than $1 million for himself, his 1998 campaign for governor or his unsuccessful bid in 1999 to get Alabama voters to approve a state lottery. The indictment claims Scrushy made “two disguised payments” totaling $500,000 to Siegelman in exchange for Siegelman appointing him to the state’s Certificate of Need Review Board, which decides on hospital expansions.
Siegelman said he has no intentions of dropping out of next year’s governor’s race. He hopes to unseat Republican Gov. Bob Riley, the man who beat him in 2002. “When this trial is over, we will be shown to be absolutely innocent of these charges. The people of Alabama will be able to see it was a farce and a waste of taxpayer’s money,” the former governor said.
Siegelman is one of the few Democrats I’ve voted for, although I later came to regret it. His opponent, Fob James, was a two-time governor who changed parties with the frequency with most people change their socks and an utterly incompetent boob who once said he believed the state should be run “like a Waffle House.” Siegelman ran on a ticket for rebuilding the state’s education infrastructure by the use of a Georgia-style lottery system. Given that I was teaching in a state university, had just come from teaching in Georgia and seeing the benefits of the cash influx, and knew there was no other way that the state could raise the money, I took a gamble on Siegelman.
Siegelman’s entire platform was based on “an education lottery,” which he managed to work into the answer of every debate question during the campaign. When the lottery was defeated, despite overwhelming support in the polls, by a coalition of conservative Republicans and a well-organized black churchgoers, though, the Siegelman train came to a halt. He ultimately lost his re-election bid after a bitter, unseemly campaign and lost to the incumbent, Republican Bob Riley (formerly my parents’ U.S. Representative).
Aside from occasional visits to my parents, I haven’t been in Alabama for over three years now and haven’t followed this case very closely. I have no doubt that Siegelman is a sleazy character but have little insight as to whether he is guilty of these charges. Nor do I think they’re politically motivated. That said, I’m rather dubious of charges for public corruption that allegedly took place more than seven years ago.
Further, Schrushy has already been acquitted on related charges. While this does not qualify as double jeapardy, according to a series of Supreme Court rulings anyway, it amounts to the same thing. There’s an old saying in legal circles that “the process is the punishment.” Even if Schrushy is acquitted again, he will have had to devote millions of dollars and two or three years of his life to his defense and will never be able to recover his reputation.
Update: Steven Taylor, who still lives in Alabama, has more.
See also “Indicted again” at the Birmingham News.
A federal grand jury indicted former Gov. Don Siegelman, HealthSouth ex-CEO Richard Scrushy and two others Wednesday, accusing Siegelman of turning his public office into a criminal enterprise to solicit more than $1 million in payoffs. The indictment charges Siegelman and former Chief of Staff Paul Hamrick of violating the Racketeer Influenced Criminal Organizations Act beginning in 1997, when Siegelman was lieutenant governor, and into his 1999-2003 term as governor.
Federal prosecutors contended Siegelman and Hamrick solicited gifts and money both for their personal benefit and to fuel Siegelman’s political campaigns. Among the accusations is that Scrushy paid $500,000 to Siegelman’s lottery campaign in exchange for a seat on the state board that decides whether hospitals can expand and for influence over that group’s decisions. Siegelman’s former transportation director, Mack Roberts, was charged with mail fraud for his role in agency actions that helped certain companies.
Prosecutors and U.S. Department of Justice officials said the indictment sends a message that corruption in government will not be tolerated. “If you abuse the power of your office to advance your own political and financial interests at the expense of the people who elected you, the Department of Justice will identify you, investigate you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law,” said Noel Hillman, chief of the U.S. Department of Justice Public Integrity Section. Hillman, based in Washington, came to Montgomery for the press conference announcing the charges.
RICO is a statute that originally was used to target organized crime outfits but has been used frequently in recent years in government corruption cases. The RICO and RICO conspiracy charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine each.
Among the accusations in the indictment are that Young gave Siegelman $204,200 and an all-terrain vehicle and gave Hamrick $46,000. In return, they helped Young obtain a tax break for Waste Management Inc., pushed a bill to let the Talladega Superspeedway sell beer on Sundays, and selected a company in which Young was involved for a lucrative contract to build two state warehouses, according to the indictment.
Siegelman also is accused of soliciting $100,000 from toll bridge developer Jim Allen and $250,000 from Montgomery inventor Forrest “Mac” Marcato with promises of helping them win state business.
Siegelman allowed Allen to OK the appointment of Mack Roberts as transportation director, and Roberts helped ensure Rainline, a road-striping product produced by Allen and Marcato, was used on state highways, the indictment alleges.
The indictment charges Roberts with 16 counts of mail fraud.
The grand jury indicted Scrushy on three bribery and mail fraud charges on May 17, but that indictment was sealed until Wednesday. The acting U.S. attorney in the case, Louis Franklin, said that indictment was obtained earlier to avoid statute of limitation problems but sealed to let the grand jury continue to work.
Siegelman had a way with awarding no-bid contracts to cronies, so this isn’t surprising.