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TUESDAY, JUNE 26, 2007

Siegelman, Scrushy face sentencing

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Two men once considered among the brightest stars of Alabama's political and business worlds will face a federal judge Tuesday who could order them to prison for much of the rest of their lives.

Former Gov. Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, convicted of bribery and other federal charges last year, will ask U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller to consider their years of public service and allow them to stay out of prison with a sentence of probation.

Prosecutors say they will ask Fuller to send a message that government corruption won't be tolerated and order Siegelman to federal prison for 30 years, Scrushy for 25 years, and order both men to pay millions of dollars in fines.

For Siegelman, 61, and Scrushy, 54, a prison sentence amounts to a ruinous end to the careers of two men who rose from relatively humble beginnings to power in government and industry.

"This is an extremely significant event. We don't have any precedent for it in Alabama," said University of Alabama political scientist William Stewart, who sat through some of last year's two-month trial.

"These were two mighty men of politics and the business world. Each of them had reached the pinnacle of what their chosen fields could offer them. Now they are waiting to see to what extent they will be deprived of their freedom," Stewart said.

Prosecutors say the two became greedy and violated the public trust. A jury on June 29, 2006, found Siegelman and Scrushy guilty of bribery, conspiracy and mail fraud in a scheme in which Siegelman was accused of appointing Scrushy to an important hospital regulatory board in exchange for Scrushy arranging $500,000 in contributions to Siegelman's campaign for a statewide lottery.

Siegelman was also convicted of obstruction of justice for trying to cover up $9,200 given to him by a lobbyist to help him purchase a motorcycle.

Both Siegelman and Scrushy have said that regardless of the sentence, they plan to appeal their convictions to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. They contend there was no personal benefit or quid-pro-quo, and no crime involved in their dealings.

A former University of Alabama student government president, Siegelman was a state Democratic Party official in Birmingham when he was elected secretary of state in 1978. He would quickly become one of the state's most popular politicians, eventually serving as attorney general and lieutenant governor before being elected governor in 1998.

In the business world, the rise of Scrushy's star was just as dramatic. He grew up in Selma and in the early 1970s was a respiratory therapy instructor in Birmingham. Later he founded a small health care company that would grow into HealthSouth Corp., one of the nation's leaders in outpatient surgery and rehabilitative health care. A multimillionaire with vacation homes and yachts, Scrushy gave millions of dollars to various causes and was rewarded for his philanthropy with his name on streets, parks and buildings.

Siegelman's attorney, Vince Kilborn, said if Fuller orders prison sentences, defense attorneys will ask that their clients remain free until the appellate court has ruled on the appeal.

"That's the critical issue since there are substantial issues to be considered on appeal," Kilborn said. He said there's no reason Siegelman should not remain free while the case is appealed.

"Governor Siegelman has demonstrated for five years that he is not a flight risk," Kilborn said. "He has made every court appearance."

Kilborn said attorneys will urge Fuller to give Siegelman probation.

"He's lost his law license, he's broke, disgraced and lost his career. That's punishment already administered," Kilborn said.

Attorneys say the hearing could last several days as Siegelman and Scrushy present witnesses who will testify about their character and good deeds. Prosecutors say they will try to highlight the damage caused to the state by their actions.

Prosecutor Steve Feaga said the government believes Siegelman and Scrushy have been free long enough and will ask Fuller to send them to prison right away.

"The standard the judge has to consider to allow them to remain free on appeal bond is to find they have a substantial likelihood to succeed on appeal. We do not believe the facts in this case will support such a decision by the court," Feaga said.

Since the jury's verdict was announced a year ago, the case has stayed in the public eye as defense attorneys have filed motions accusing jurors of discussing the case over the Internet during the trial and accusing the judge of a conflict of interest. At one point Fuller called all 12 jurors, one at a time, into court to ask if there were outside influences on the verdict.

At another time, prosecutors attempted to have Scrushy placed in jail, saying he violated the terms of his bond by taking a yacht trip from Palm Beach, Fla., to Miami.

Siegelman and Scrushy have both claimed the prosecution was the result of a Republican political strategy in the U.S. Justice Department targeting Democratic politicians, but prosecutors have denied those charges.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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