How normal is Siegelman’s treatment?
Experts, politicians talk about speed and amount of notice
By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer
MONTGOMERY — The road to prison for former Gov. Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy was much more sudden and difficult than that of some others convicted in high-profile corruption cases.
The two, not allowed to hug loved ones, were whisked away from the federal courtroom promptly after being sentenced June 28, then put in shackles and taken to Atlanta, where they were required to share a small cell 23 hours a day for two weeks.
In contrast, former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers was alled to stay out of prison on appeal and surrendered in September at the federal prison in Oakdale, La., where Siegelman is now being held. Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling got to hug his wife and walk into a federal prison in Minnesota in December.
Resigned Orange Beach Mayor Steve Russo, convicted in a kickback scheme over resort real estate, was allowed to turn himself in at the federal prison at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery and given an extra week so he could attend his brother’s wedding.
“It’s extraordinarily unusual for people like this not to be allowed to remain free and given a reporting date or an appeals bond,” said Robert Sigler, a retired criminal justice professor at The University of Alabama.
Sigler said it appears that Siegelman and Scrushy were rushed off to prison to ensure that they would receive some punishment, even if their convictions were overturned on appeal.
Otherwise, he said, “they might have never gone to prison.”
While much of the criticism of the way Siegelman was treated has come from fellow Democrats, Republican U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus said earlier this week that while he agrees with the verdict, he felt Siegelman should have been given time to put his affairs in order.
By not being allowed to report to minimum security prisons, Siegelman and Scrushy both went through the harsh conditions of higher-security lockups.
Siegelman also was flown with other inmates heading for various destinations — a trip to Michigan, New York and finally Oklahoma City, where he spent almost a week at a transfer site before being transferred to Oakdale. Scrushy is currently in the Oklahoma City center and is expected to be transferred to Beaumont, Texas.
Chief prosecutor Louis Franklin said that defendants have been allowed to report to prison in other cases didn’t matter in this case.
“The judge has the discretion,” Franklin said. “Siegelman and Scrushy were not treated any harsher than anyone else.”
He also said he doesn’t understand complaints that Siegelman and Scrushy did not have time to put their affairs in order before being taken to prison. They had been free for an entire year between their conviction and sentencing, he said.
“They had a year to get their affairs in order. They were allowed to travel all over the country. Most people don’t get that,” Franklin said.
Treatment the same
Mike Truman, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said Siegelman and Scrushy were treated no differently than other prisoners. He said all prisoners are transferred without notification to attorneys and family for security reasons.
“The inmate doesn’t know where he is going either. Everyone is treated the same,” Truman said.
Alabama Republican Party chairman Mike Hubbard said he feels Siegelman may have deserved harsher treatment than some other white-collar criminals because he had been governor of the state.
“I think when you are an elected official, I think the penalties are higher because you betrayed the public trust,” Hubbard said. “I do feel sorry for his family, that’s for sure. But since he was an elected official, that puts him on a different plane.”
Siegelman and Scrushy were taken into custody shortly after U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller had declared the sentence. Fuller said an appeal bond did not apply in the case.
Siegelman attorney Susan James, who previously has worked for the federal prison system, said that by not being given a reporting date, they were treated as more serious prisoners.
She said if Siegelman had been allowed to surrender, as Skilling and Russo did, he would have been able to travel with his family to a minimum security facility, like Oakdale, and then turn himself in.
She said Siegelman’s travels in the federal prison system have made it difficult for attorneys to talk to him while they prepare a motion seeking to have him released on bond while his conviction is appealed.
“Anytime you have a client who is incarcerated during trial or appeal, there are problems because your client is inaccessible,” James said.
The judge normally decides whether to release a defendant on appeal bond, based on whether the judge feels he has a chance of winning on appeal.
James said she believes there are issues that are “close questions” for the appeals court to consider.
“But the fact that we didn’t win an appeal bond doesn’t mean we are not going to win on appeal,” James said.
Franklin said the judge must have felt confident that the rulings he made during the two-month trial would stand up on appeal.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Save $84.50 a year off our newsstand price:
Subscribe today for only 38 cents a day!