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Last updated 5:25AM ET
February 26, 2021
Judge Increases Possible Sentence for Siegelman
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - A federal judge increased the possible sentence for former Gov. Don Siegelman from more than 10 years to more than 15 years Thursday, saying he believes Siegelman's actions damaged the public's confidence in state government.

U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller turned down a request by Siegelman's attorneys to reduce the guidelines and instead adopted arguments from prosecutors that the possible sentence should be longer than what's proposed in the guidelines.

"I am convinced the conduct Governor Siegelman engaged in damaged the public's confidence in the government of this state," Fuller said.

Fuller is to formally sentence Siegelman, 61, and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, 54, convicted last year on bribery, mail fraud and related charges in a government corruption case.

The new sentencing range for Siegelman is 188 months to 235 months, or about 15 1/2 to 19 1/2 years. The new fine range is $20,000 to $200,000.

Siegelman and Scrushy will be sentenced after the judge hears arguments concerning Scrushy's possible sentence Thursday afternoon.

Attorneys pleaded with Fuller earlier Thursday to show mercy when he sentences Siegelman, a veteran Democratic politician who was described as a kind person "with a special affection for the little people."

But prosecutors said Siegelman, convicted on bribery and other federal charges with ex-HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, should go to prison for as long as 30 years. They said he schemed when he was lieutenant governor and governor to require people to pay bribes if they wanted to do business with the state.

Fuller spent much of Thursday morning hearing arguments from Siegelman's attorneys and prosecutors on why the judge should give a light or harsh sentence to Siegelman.

Fuller did hear from one witness who described Scrushy as a godly man who shouldn't be sent to prison.

Brenda Spahn, who operates a ministry for troubled women in the Birmingham area, said Scrushy has been a volunteer for about a year and comes at least once a week to preach to the women and pray with them.

Spahn said she had seen reports about Scrushy on television and she was expecting him to be flamboyant.

"He was nothing like that. He preaches to them and stays for hours. I'm telling you he's the real deal as far as his relationship with God," Spahn said.

Attorney Susan James told Fuller she is concerned about Siegelman's safety if he is given a lengthy sentence, pointing out that as a former Alabama attorney general and governor he has a history of pushing for tough anti-crime legislation and for fighting against parole for some prisoners. She said that at his age a 10-year sentence would deprive Siegelman of much of the rest of his life.

"The rest of his productive life will be wasted while he's in prison," James said.

But chief prosecutor Louis Franklin said Siegelman deserves a harsh sentence partly because of his tough stance against crime.

"To say that when someone takes a harsh stance and then turns around and commits a crime they should be given lenient punishment, that's the height of hypocrisy," Franklin told Fuller.

Franklin said he doesn't doubt that Siegelman has done good things in his life, but he said he shouldn't receive leniency because of those good deeds.

"To give a lenient sentence sends the message if you do a bunch of good deeds that gives you one free crime to commit," Franklin said.

At one point Thursday, James pleaded with Fuller to show "fairness in this case," which she said has gotten worldwide attention partly because of claims that the prosecution was the result of a scheme by Repbulican officals to prosecute Democrats.

But prosecutor J.B. Perrine said Siegelman's claims of a government conspiracy show his "willingness to engage in propoganda to heap disrespect on this system."

Siegelman was a state Democratic Party official in Birmingham when he was elected secretary of state in 1978. He soon became one of the state's most popular politicians, eventually serving as attorney general and lieutenant governor before being elected governor in 1998. Scrushy founded a small health care company in Birmingham in the early 1980s that would grow into HealthSouth Corp., one of the nation's leaders in outpatient surgery and rehabilitative health care.

He was fired as a $1.7 billion accounting scandal was uncovered, but he was acquitted of criminal charges in the fraud by a federal court jury in Birmingham in 2005. Siegelman also had criminal charges against him dismissed after a federal judge in Birmingham struck down key evidence in an alleged Medicaid fraud case.

One of Siegelman's attorneys, Robert Blakey, gave Fuller a list of former governors of various states who have been convicted of crimes but given sentences lighter than what Siegelman would receive according to the guidelines.

The governors included former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in a racketeering case and former Alabama Gov. Guy Hunt, who received probation after being convicted in 1993 of spending money from a tax exempt inaugural fund for personal items.
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