New review of Alabama corruption case ordered

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered a new review of the convictions in the government corruption case against former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and ex-HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy.
The court’s brief order vacated the decision of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which had upheld their convictions, and ordered it to review their appeals in light of a ruling that went against what is known as the “honest services fraud” law.
Last week the justices found fault with the anti-fraud law in the case of former Enron chief Jeffrey Skilling, and defense attorneys for Siegelman and Scrushy had hoped that ruling would give them a new chance to challenge their convictions.
Siegelman attorney Sam Heldman, who handled the former governor’s case before the Supreme Court, called the court’s decision Tuesday “a massive victory.”
“I think this is a step toward a final and complete legal victory,” Heldman said.
The 11th circuit last year struck down two charges that Siegelman was convicted of but upheld the other five — at least two that his defense lawyers say involve the honest service fraud law. The others are for bribery, conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
The court upheld all six counts against Scrushy, with four appearing to involve the honest services fraud law.
Defense attorneys contend the “honest services” law is vague and used by prosecutors when they lack hard evidence, but its defenders say it is an important tool in fighting corruption. The Supreme Court said prosecutors may continue to seek honest services fraud convictions in cases where they put forward evidence that defendants accepted bribes or kickbacks.
Siegelman, 64, was sentenced to more than seven years in prison and has been free on appeal bond since June 2008. Scrushy, 57, was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison and was denied release on appeal. He has been in prison since June 2007.
Prosecutors argued that Siegelman appointed Scrushy to an influential hospital regulatory board in exchange for Scrushy arranging $500,000 in contributions to the governor’s campaign for a state lottery in 1999.
Both contend there was no such deal and that prosecutors failed to prove there was any explicit “quid pro quo” agreement, which is required in federal bribery cases. The defense also argued that U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller of Montgomery did not adequately instruct jurors that such an agreement was necessary.
The federal appeals court, however, rejected both arguments. The judges also rejected defense claims of juror misconduct in
Siegelman, long a prominent Democrat at the Alabama Statehouse, lost a bid for re-election when the federal investigation surfaced during his 2002 campaign. He lost again in 2006 when his bid for the Democratic nomination coincided with his federal criminal trial.
He has claimed his prosecution was pushed by Republicans, including former White House political adviser Karl Rove. Career federal prosecutors and Rove, however, have repeatedly denied the claim.
Scrushy, who built HealthSouth into one of the nation’s largest rehabilitation chains, was ousted as CEO of the Birmingham-based company after a long-running $2.7 billion accounting fraud at the company was disclosed. While 15 former HealthSouth executives pleaded guilty and one was convicted, Scrushy was acquitted on criminal fraud charges by a federal court jury in Birmingham in 2005.
He was convicted the next year in Montgomery on separate government corruption charges.
A civil case also was brought against him by HealthSouth shareholders and a judge issued a $2.9 billion judgment against Scrushy, who is appealing but has had much of his property, including a 10-acre estate, lake mansion and vintage cars, seized and auctioned as part of the payment.