Bringing an official end to one of the most notable political careers in Alabama history, a federal judge on Friday resentenced former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman to six and a half years in prison on bribery and conspiracy charges.
Siegelman, who has served nine months in prison and will receive credit for that time, must report to prison by Sept. 11.
While Siegelman and his attorneys may pursue an appeal of the sentence, the former governor made it clear that his legal fight -- which began with his indictment in 2005 -- is now over. Siegelman, who had repeatedly argued that the charges were politically motivated, expressed contrition shortly before sentencing.
Standing before U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller in a blue suit and striped tie, Siegelman apologized for his criticisms of Fuller, who presided over the 2006 trial that ended with a jury finding him guilty on seven counts.
"I want to apologize to the people of Alabama for the embarrassment my actions have caused the state," he said, choking up briefly. "Most of all, I want to apologize to my family for the pain that I've caused them."
Siegelman, 66, and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy were convicted in 2006 on bribery and corruption charges stemming from $500,000 in contributions made by Scrushy to Siegelman's 1999 campaign for a statewide lottery. After Scrushy made a $250,000 donation, Siegelman appointed him to the state's Certificate of Need (CON) board, which oversees hospital improvements in the state.
Siegelman insisted there was no agreement to accept the money in exchange for official action, but prosecutors argued the action -- which did not appear in campaign finance reports or Siegelman's income tax returns until a reporter began asking questions -- constituted a bribe.
Siegelman's attorneys had appealed the ruling all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected the governor's appeal without comment in June. Defense attorneys argued that the law was not clear on when a political contribution became a bribe, but Fuller disagreed.
"There is no doubt in this court's mind that what took place was a bribe -- an explicit bribe," Fuller said to Susan James, an attorney for Siegelman, during legal arguments in court. Siegelman himself seemed resigned to the issue.
"Had I known I was coming close to the thin line separating politics from criminality, I would not have crossed it," he said.
'21 years to understand that'
Siegelman, a Democrat, occupied four major statewide offices. Serving as secretary of state from 1979 to 1987, he then put in four years as the state's attorney general. After a lull, Siegelman won election as lieutenant governor in 1994, then governor in 1998. He lost a close race for re-election to Republican U.S. Rep. Bob Riley in 2002.
Referring to Siegelman's time as Alabama attorney general, Fuller said that Friday in court was the first time he had ever heard Siegelman say he respected the system and accepted the verdict.
"You came from the highest legal office in the state of Alabama, and it has taken you 21 years to understand that, and I find that difficult," Fuller said.
The sentence was 10 months shorter than the 88-month sentence the former governor received in 2007, but Siegelman served nine months of that sentence before being released on an appeal bond in March 2008. Unlike the first sentencing, Siegelman was not immediately taken into custody, and Fuller said he would allow Siegelman to turn himself in. to be taken to prison.
Fuller also fined Siegelman $50,000, said he owed a $500 assessment immediately, and said he would be on supervised release for three years after he was released. He said a judge must approve any travel for Siegelman outside of the middle and northern districts of Alabama.
Acting U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin, who prosecuted Siegelman in 2006, declined comment immediately after the hearing, but said in a later statement he was "proud" of prosecutors.
"Today's sentence is another welcomed step toward closure to a dark chapter in Alabama politics," he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Lanny Breuer said in a statement that the outcome represented an "unflagging commitment of the Department of Justice to hold public officials accountable for corruption."
A federal appeals court threw out two of the former governor's seven convictions in May 2011 while upholding the rest.
Scrushy, who was sentenced to just less than seven years behind bars, saw his appeal bond denied in 2008. The former HealthSouth CEO was released from a home confinement last week after five years in custody. Fuller took a year off his sentence at a hearing in January.
Fuller, who was upfront throughout the day about his thoughts of Siegelman's guilt and his not accepting responsibility, told Siegelman he could not justify giving the man who solicited the bribe a longer sentence than the man who paid it.
'So difficult to go out in public'
Siegelman's daughter and friends and supporters, including former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods and the wife of the late Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, pleaded with Fuller for mercy before sentencing. All said Siegelman had been financially ruined and was suffering from the shame of his prosecution.
"It's so difficult to go out in public," Dana Siegelman, the former governor's daughter, told Fuller.
Supporters had pleaded for Siegelman to be released on parole and required to perform a "heavy dose of community service," where his talents could be put to use. Many stressed Siegelman's personal acts of charity, including giving legal advice to immigrants and providing support to those facing illness or disability.
Kenneth "Maze" Marshall, a disabled veteran who also testified on Siegelman's behalf at his 2007 sentencing, said Siegelman drove him to movies, invited him to events where the hungry veteran could eat, and helped ensure he had quality medical care when he had a heart problem. Marshall also said Siegelman had been changed by the trial.
"He's broken mentally and physically," Marshall said, adding that he considered Siegelman "an outstanding individual."
Corruption or just politics?
Woods was one of 130 current and former state attorneys general who filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting Siegelman and expressing their concerns with the ramifications of the case. On the stand, Woods said he did not want to "relitigate" the case, but said the law as applied could have consequences for government and politics.
Richard Pilger, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section, questioned Woods closely on his argument, saying other courts had found that a "nudge nudge, wink wink" was sufficient to constitute bribery.
"There's a 'nudge nudge, wink wink' with all the ambassadorships in this country," Woods said and added that no one was prosecuting the president for appointing donors to be ambassadors or other positions.
Franklin, while acknowledging the former governor's personal virtues, stressed to the judge that he was being sentenced for his public actions.
"We are here to hold him accountable. What he did was corrupt," Franklin said. " -- He has to suffer for the crime he committed."
Fuller said before the sentencing that the case had been hard on everyone in the court. Acknowledging the criticism from the Siegelman camp, the judge said he would not take anything that happened outside of the courtroom into consideration.
Earlier in the day, Fuller said "the facts in this case for years have been misrepresented."
In giving the sentence, Fuller factored in enhanced time because he found Siegelman obstructed justice, did not accept responsibility and because of pervasive corruption when he served as governor and lieutenant governor.
Fuller outlined what he believed were key facts and testimony in the case and said he believes there was obstruction of justice, with Siegelman trying to hide contributions from Scrushy.
The judge said "only the most incompetent politician" would explicitly offer a bribe.
James said Siegelman, who is 66, was five years younger when he was sentenced in 2007 and that he would be 71 or 72 when he was released if he received the same sentence. In a document filed earlier this week, James wrote that the same amount of time in prison could constitute a "life sentence" for Siegelman.
The judge said he would recommend that Siegelman be placed in the least restrictive facility in the federal prison system that is closest to Alabama.
"Governor Siegelman, it has been a long seven years. God luck to you," Fuller said as the court adjourned.
(c)2012 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.)