AP Photo by Jacquelyn Martin, Butch Dill|
Richard Scrushy and his wife, Leslie, leave court, in Birmingham after Richard Scrushy was acquitted of all charges in his federal fraud trial last summer.At right is Audry Lewis, who wrote stories in the Birmingham Times newspaper that were sympathetic to Scrushy's defense. She now says she was working on behalf of Scrushy, who paid her $11,000 through a public relations firm.
Best grass roots money can buy?
Writer: Scrushy paid for sympathetic stories
By Jay Reeves
Associated Press Writer
BIRMINGHAM — A writer who turned out a stream of sympathetic newspaper stories about former HealthSouth Corp. CEO Richard Scrushy during his fraud trial says Scrushy secretly paid her $11,000 through a public relations firm and typically read her articles before publication.
Documents obtained by The Associated Press show that the PR firm wrote thousands of dollars in checks to Audry Lewis, whose freelance articles appeared in The Birmingham Times, a small but influential black newspaper.
The documents also show that money from the PR firm went to a pastor who says he was paid to help bring fellow black preachers into the courtroom in a bid to sway the mostly black jury in Scrushy's favor.
Scrushy, acquitted in June of involvement in a $2.7 billion accounting fraud scheme at the chain of health clinics, strongly denied authorizing payments to Lewis or the pastor, Herman Henderson, for any work on his behalf. The executive said he did give money to Henderson's church for a building fund and Hurricane Katrina relief.
The lead prosecutor in Scrushy's case said there was nothing criminal in what Lewis and Henderson described, and members of the jury have said the only thing that influenced them was a lack of evidence against the defendant. But the payments raise questions about the legitimacy of the ostensibly grass-roots support for Scrushy seen throughout his trial.
During the trial, prosecutors worried that Scrushy was attempting to sway community opinion — and possibly the jury — with a Bible-study program he hosts on local TV, as well as a daily show about the trial that aired on a local-access channel purchased by Scrushy's son-in-law.
Lewis and Henderson said Scrushy still owes them a combined $150,000 for the newspaper stories and other public relations work. An attorney for Scrushy, Donald V. Watkins, said the allegations and the request for more money "could be perceived as a shakedown."
Scrushy played tape recordings Thursday afternoon for The Associated Press which he claims prove that he had no agreement with Audry Lewis and Henderson .
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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