A case of selective prosecution?
Siegelman prosecutor defends not probing alleged illegal contributions to Sessions, Pryor
By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer
MONTGOMERY — Amid questions raised by a magazine report, a federal prosecutor Thursday defended the decision not to probe allegations involving prominent Republicans in 2002 while pursuing claims against then-Gov. Don Siegelman, the state's top Democrat.
Time magazine's report said a key witness in the bribery and corruption case against Siegelman, Lanny Young, also told investigators of making possibly illegal cash contributions to campaigns of U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions and U.S. Circuit Judge Bill Pryor, both Republicans, but they were never investigated.
The magazine said it obtained sensitive investigative documents that raise new questions about possible selective prosecution of Siegelman at a time when the U.S. attorney in Montgomery, Leura Canary, was the wife of Republican political operative Bill Canary.
Steve Feaga, a career prosecutor involved in the case that led to Siegelman's conviction, said Young never claimed to get anything in return for the contributions, while he did make such allegations about Siegelman. He said there was no reason to pursue the claims involving Sessions and Pryor.
"At the time Lanny was detailing having made contributions to other public officials, he characterized these contributions as legitimate. There was no understanding he would get something for them," Feaga said.
"We were looking to determine whether or not any public official had sold his office for money," Feaga said. "Our investigation found one that did. His name was Don Siegelman and he was prosecuted and convicted."
Young, a former lobbyist and landfill developer, testified last year that he gave Siegelman campaign contributions and other gifts in exchange for receiving government favors while Siegelman was governor and lieutenant governor.
Time is reporting in its new edition that Young described for prosecutors cash contributions that he also gave Sessions in 1996, when he was attorney general and running for the Senate, and Pryor in 1998, when he was running for attorney general.
The magazine cites federal documents outlining interviews between federal prosecutors and Young. The documents are among those the U.S. Justice Department has refused to turn over to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, which plans to hold hearings later this month on accusations of selective prosecutions. The committee has said the hearings will include testimony about the Siegelman case.
Feaga said Thursday that Young also claimed to prosecutors that he gave money to several prominent Alabama Democrats other than Siegelman and that charges were not filed against them either. Feaga said he could not identify the Democrats because the documents are still considered confidential.
Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy were convicted last year on bribery and other charges in a federal government corruption case. Siegelman was sentenced to more than seven years in prison and Scrushy to almost seven years. Siegelman is serving his sentence at the federal prison in Oakdale, La., while Scrushy is incarcerated at the federal prison in Beaumont, Texas.
Siegelman has claimed for years that the federal investigation was the result of a Republican vendetta against him and was started by U.S. Attorney Leura Canary. She recused herself from the case in 2002 and turned it over to chief prosecutor Louis Franklin, Feaga and other career prosecutors.
Feaga said prosecutors gave defense attorneys records of the interviews with Young more than two years ago.
Feaga also said it would have been impossible for them to have prosecuted Sessions or Pryor if they had done something wrong, because the statute of limitations had expired at the time Young provided the information about possibly illegal, unreported contributions.
Siegelman attorney David McDonald said Thursday that defense attorneys tried to introduce evidence during the trial that Young had also given money to Pryor and Sessions. After a hearing in private, Fuller ruled the defense could not name other politicians who might have gotten money from Young.
"We felt a crucial element of defense was to be able to talk about Sessions and Pryor," McDonald said. He said even if it was proven that Young did not actually give Sessions and Pryor money or gifts, the testimony would have caused the jury to question Young's credibility as a witness.
Sessions' press secretary Stephen Boyd said Thursday that the senator had records of receiving a $1,000 contribution by check from Young in 1995, when he was Alabama attorney general and running for the U.S. Senate.
"He never accepted cash contributions from Lanny Young," Boyd said.
Pryor declined to comment Thursday. Time magazine reported receiving an e-mail from Pryor that said, "I do not have a recollection of the amounts that you describe as having been contributed by Lanny Young or his associates to my campaign."
The Time story, available on the magazine's Web site, says Young gave detailed statements about money he gave both Pryor and Sessions. The magazine reported that Young gave Sessions contributions through intermediaries to his 1996 campaign for the Senate to get around federal election law that then prohibited an individual from giving more than $1,000 to a federal candidate.
The story reports that Young gave money to Pryor's 1998 campaign for attorney general by writing checks to other people, who would contribute money to Pryor.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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