WASHINGTON — Don Siegelman, a Democrat who served as governor of Alabama from 1999 to 2003, was sentenced Thursday in Montgomery, Ala., to more than seven years in prison and fined $50,000.
He was convicted of bribery and obstruction of justice last year in a trial that he said was engineered by Bush administration officials who wanted to eliminate him as a threat to Republican dominance in the South.
U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller denied a request from Siegelman's lawyers that he remain free while his case was on appeal, and the 61-year-old populist politician was led off to jail.
"It was a shock," said Chip Hill, a former aide to Siegelman, who sat through the trial. "We thought they would consider the appeal request or at least give him some time to report."
Moments after Siegelman was sentenced, his co-defendant and alleged conspirator in a bribery scheme, Richard Scrushy, the former head of the HealthSouth hospital chain, learned that he would be heading to prison for nearly seven years.
Supporters of both men testified at their sentencing hearing, the Associated Press reported Thursday, listing their good deeds.
"While it is true the good far exceeds the bad, I must impose a fair punishment to reassure all that come before this court that justice is blind," Fuller said in sentencing Siegelman.
In addition to the prison term and fine, Siegelman was ordered to pay restitution of $181,325 to a state agency where prosecutors said kickbacks had been made. Once his prison sentence is completed, he is to perform 500 hours of community service.
Scrushy was fined $150,000, due immediately, and was ordered to pay $267,000 to United Way of Central Alabama. He also is to perform 500 hours of community service when released, the Associated Press reported.
Siegelman, once considered one of the Democratic Party's brightest stars in the South, contended that presidential political strategist Karl Rove, who has a long history of involvement in Alabama politics, was behind the series of charges filed against him over the last seven years.
While there is no proof that Rove played a role in Siegelman's case, the lengthy prosecution contained so many oddities that even a Republican prosecutor, former Arizona Atty. Gen. Grant Woods, said recently that "it does not pass the smell test." Woods, a friend of Siegelman's, has called for a congressional inquiry.
A House Judiciary Committee staff member told The Times this week that the committee is looking at the Siegelman prosecution as part of a broader examination into whether the Bush Justice Department tilted public corruption cases against Democrats.
The committee has already received a copy of a sworn statement from a Republican lawyer in Rainsville, Ala., Dana Jill Simpson, who says that in 2002 she was on a campaign conference call with aides working to elect Siegelman's opponent, current Alabama Gov. Bob Riley. Simpson said in her statement that on the call, she heard Riley strategist Bill Canary tell other campaign workers not to worry about Siegelman in the future because his "gals" and "Karl" would make sure the Justice Department pursued a case against him.
Canary has worked on campaigns with Rove in the past, and his wife, Leura, is the U.S. attorney whose office brought the case against Siegelman. After Siegelman's lawyers raised that potential conflict of interest, Leura Canary recused herself from the case, which was subsequently handled by career prosecutors.
Others that Simpson said were on the conference call have described Simpson's recollection as preposterous.
Siegelman was one of the most highly regarded Democratic leaders in the South until he was knocked off that pedestal by two sets of indictments filed by Bush administration prosecutors.
The first set, filed in Birmingham, Ala., in 2004, was dropped after the judge in that case said the prosecution's evidence was suspect.
The second set, filed in Montgomery in 2006, charged the former governor with 101 counts of criminal wrongdoing.
He was acquitted of all but seven related to bribery for accepting a $500,000 contribution from Scrushy to an education lottery campaign. Siegelman subsequently reappointed Scrushy to a state hospital board.
The prosecutors said the governor and Scrushy were engaged in a "pay to play" scheme. Siegelman said it was simply politics as practiced around the nation every day. He pointed out that three previous governors had appointed Scrushy to the same board.
Siegelman was also convicted of obstruction of justice related to receipt of $9,200 that he said he was given when he sold a motorcycle.