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Bobo acquitted; prosecutors 0-3 in Medicaid case

TUSCALOOSA (AP) — A federal court jury acquitted Dr. Phillip Bobo of all charges Monday in a Medicaid fraud case that reached all the way to former Gov. Don Siegelman’s office and ended with federal prosecutors striking out three times.

On the eighth day of deliberations, the jury found the prominent Tuscaloosa physician not guilty of wire and Medicaid fraud, witness tampering and lying to the FBI and at his first trial.

Bobo, 63, had been accused of trying to rig the bidding for state Medicaid maternity contracts in 1999 with help from friends in the Siegelman administration. Prosecutors said he proposed a payoff of $800,000 to a competitor, including $550,000 from the state-funded Alabama Fire College in Tuscaloosa, where Bobo was medical director.

But Bobo, who testified during the retrial, said he was negotiating a business arrangement with health care providers and argued that his statements were misrepresented by federal prosecutors.

Defense attorney Bill Clark said the outcome was long past due.

‘Got what he deserved’

“Dr. Phillip Bobo finally got what he deserved and that’s free of these charges that have been plaguing him for this long period,” Clark said.

A federal court jury in Tuscaloosa convicted him in 2001, but a federal appeals court tossed out the conviction because of a faulty indictment. He was reindicted in 2004, but this time federal prosecutors also got indictments against Siegelman and his chief of staff, Paul Hamrick.

Prosecutors, however, dropped the case against Siegelman and Hamrick later in 2004 after a federal judge ruled there was not enough evidence to support a key conspiracy charge.

The jury’s verdict Monday cleared Bobo, a Siegelman supporter when he won the governor’s office in 1998.

U.S. Attorney Alice Martin said she was disappointed with the verdict in the retrial.

“The years of delays in retrying this case due to numerous appeals and the death of a key witness were felt as evidence was presented,” she said.

Boost to Siegelman

For Siegelman, Bobo’s acquittal was a boost to his efforts to overturn his separate bribery conviction in Montgomery, his attorney said.

“The verdict shows that the Phillip Bobo matter when it was brought against Governor Siegelman was bogus. ... This is the same Justice Department who brought the case against Governor Siegelman in Montgomery and that will be determined to also be bogus,” defense attorney Vince Kilborn said.

William Stewart, a political scientist at The University of Alabama and a longtime observer of state politics, said the verdict helps those who claim Republican prosecutors have set their sights on Democratic politicians and those associated with them.

“That will add fuel to former Governor Siegelman’s charge that there was a political vendetta against him,” he said.

After the second indictment was brought against Bobo, appeals were filed by both sides. Bobo unsuccessfully claimed double jeopardy, and federal prosecutors sought and got a new judge for the retrial. Also, Dr. Marc Armstrong of Tuscaloosa, who testified against Bobo at the first trial, died before the retrial.

The jury listened to seven days of testimony, including secretly recorded tapes of conversations Bobo had with Armstrong and officials in another medical group.

It began deliberations Aug. 9, with the verdict coming after a weekend break.

Clark, a former president of the Alabama State Bar, said the jury deliberations were a record for his 35-year legal career. “I’ve never had a jury out longer than the actual testimony,” he said.

Siegelman was convicted in 2006 in Montgomery of bribery and conspiracy charges with former HealthSouth Chairman Richard Scrushy. They were found guilty of swapping $500,000 in contributions to Siegelman’s state lottery campaign for an appointment to a hospital regulatory board.

The key witness on the Scrushy contribution was one-time Siegelman aide Nick Bailey, who pleaded to accepting bribes and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. He also testified against Bobo, saying he gave the physician information about the Medicaid bids that he considered to be confidential.

The Bobo investigation focused federal prosecutors’ attention on the Alabama Fire College at Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa.

That investigation has been more productive for prosecutors, with a former Fire College board member and a state legislator pleading guilty and the probe growing to other programs in Alabama’s two-year college system.

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

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