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Prosecutor offers different take on Siegelman

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — The chief prosecutor in the corruption case against former Gov. Don Siegelman says Justice Department attorneys were reluctant to call a special grand jury to investigate the Siegelman administration, as urged by local federal prosecutors.

But Louis Franklin, a career prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Montgomery, said there was never any disagreement between him and key Justice Department lawyer John Scott on whether there was sufficient evidence against Siegelman.

“It’s not that they didn’t want to go forward,” Franklin said. But the Justice Department attorneys who worked on the case, including Scott, did not agree with the decision to impanel a special grand jury.

Franklin said Justice Department attorneys favored continuing the investigation as it had proceeded to that point. He said that would have meant sending FBI agents out to interview witnesses, continuing to collect evidence and, if a case was developed, presenting a summary of evidence to a regular grand jury.

Unlike a regular grand jury, a special grand jury subpoenas witnesses and gathers evidence, a time-consuming process that may not end in charges. But it also is a formal step that raises the stakes and the profile of an investigation.

“The only thing that happened is when we had our discussions about convening a special grand jury, there was a part of our team that did not agree with that decision,” Franklin said.

The grand jury met for more than a year before returning indictments against Siegelman, former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, Siegelman’s former chief of staff Paul Hamrick and former state transportation director Mack Roberts.

Siegelman was acquitted on 25 of 32 charges in the trial last year. But he and Scrushy were convicted of bribery and other charges and are currently serving federal prison sentences. Hamrick and Roberts were found not guilty of all charges against them.

The statements by Franklin come in the aftermath of testimony Oct. 23 before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee by Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney in the Clinton administration who later defended Siegelman.

Jones told the committee, which was looking into allegations of political prosecutions by the Justice Department, that he believes local prosecutors were in charge early, but that Washington officials became more involved after the case appeared to stall in 2004.

Franklin has repeatedly disputed claims that the Siegelman case was politically manipulated in Washington, and pointed to the grand jury issue to back up his assertion that career prosecutors in Montgomery made the crucial calls that led to the trial and convictions.

Jones said Friday he still believes the case was moved back to the fast burner in Washington in 2004 after there was a change in leadership in the Justice Department’s public integrity section, which had been sending attorneys to Montgomery to help with the investigation.

Jones said Franklin seems to be backing down from his statement last week, which Jones said “made it clear that at least somebody at the Justice Department didn’t think there was a case.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Feaga, who prosecuted the case with Franklin, said there was a point when Scott felt there was not enough evidence to go forward at that time. But, he said, “that’s when a decision was made that we should go forward to the grand jury.”

And he said that decision was made by Franklin, not by anyone in Washington.

Vendetta

Siegelman and other Democrats have said for years the case was a Republican vendetta to end his political career.

Franklin said he found it interesting that Siegelman supporters on the Internet are now criticizing him for going forward with the investigation despite hesitation by Scott and others at the Justice Department — just the opposite of their previous claims.

He said what caused the pace of the case to quicken was when his office decided to put its resources on the case.

“When we discussed this case, there was never a question about whether the evidence was sufficient to establish guilt,” Franklin said. “There was some debate about whether or not a jury ... would convict them based on their status as a former governor and the executive officer of a Fortune 500 company.”

Feaga said he is not surprised by the political uproar since Siegelman and Scrushy were found guilty. Feaga was a lead prosecutor in 1993 in the trial of then Gov. Guy Hunt, a Republican, who was convicted of stealing money from his inaugural fund.

“The people that were political supporters of that governor cried loudly and longly that that was a political prosecution and that I was a Democrat and a Republican hater. Here I am 12 years later being accused of being a Republican and a Democrat hater,” Feaga said.

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

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