Last week federal District Judge Mark Fuller sentenced former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman to six-and-a-half years in prison for accepting a $500,000 political contribution from health-care company executive Richard Scrushy, before appointing Scrushy chairman of a state medical commission. The story has received little attention from national media focused on the presidential campaign. I have written about the politics of Siegelman's prosecution in the past and will write more about it in the future.
For the moment, I will describe several of many anomalies that make it apparent that Siegelman was selectively prosecuted because he was a Democratic star who had been elected attorney general, lieutenant governor, and governor in a Republican state.
Scrushy was already serving on the state commission when he contributed $500,000 to a fund Siegelman had set up to promote a state lottery that would fund scholarships for Alabama high-school graduates who could not afford college tuition. Siegelman elevated Scrushy to the chairmanship of the board and derived no personal gain from the contribution.
Judge Fuller was an active member of the state's Republican Party, serving on the party's executive committee before George W. Bush appointed him to the federal bench.
Before he was appointed to the federal bench, Fuller had served as a district attorney in Alabama. His office was investigated for "salary spiking," the practice of increasing the salaries of select employees. An audit of payroll accounts in Fuller's DA office discovered that in one instance he increased the salary of one employee by $70,000, more than twice the sum the employee earned the previous year. The higher salary would have substantially increased the pension the employee would earn upon retirement from state employment. The audit was overseen by Fuller's replacement, who was appointed by then-Governor Don Siegelman. Fuller complained that the investigation was politically motivated and that Siegelman was behind it. Despite the controversy, Fuller refused to recuse himself from the Siegelman trial.
As a federal judge, Fuller held a substantial equity position—$5 million to $25 million—in Doss Aviation, which provided a variety of services (flight training, avaition fuel, aircraft maintenance, air traffic control) to the Navy, Army, and Air Force. In other words, the judge was also a federal contractor, dependent on procurement decisions made in the Pentagon.
The investigation of Don Siegelman was started by Alabama Attorney General William Pryor, whose campaign had been run by Alabama political consultant Bill Canary. Pryor was subsequently appointed to the federal appellate bench by George W. Bush.
In 2002, Siegelman had been narrowly defeated, after an retabulation of votes, by Republican Congressman Rob Riley. The U.S. attorney who picked up the AG's investigation until she perhaps recused herself herself, was Leura Canary, the wife of Bill Canary. Bill Canary was working on Riley's campaign.
Before Siegelman was convicted in 2007, the same charges against him were dismissed by a federal judge hearing the case before it was assigned to Fuller. A former U.S. attorney who briefly represented Siegelman as a private lawyer told a House subcommittee that Bush Justice Department officials ordered federal prosecutors in Alabama to "review the case from top to bottom"after it was initially dismissed.
Testifying before the same subcommittee hearing in 2007, Richard Thornburgh, who had served as attorney general under the first President Bush, said the U.S. attorney in Alabama did far more than review the case; she essentially opened a new investigation. "I have had a hard time figuring out why the U.S. attorney would go to such lengths to convert these trivial irregularities into federal felony charges," Thornburgh said at the October 23, 2007 hearing.
Fifty sitting or former state attorneys general wrote to Judge Fuller while he was trying the case, arguing that it was not clear that Siegelman had accepted a bribe from Scrushy.
More recently,113 former state attorneys general urged the Supreme Court to take up the case, which it declined to do in June. Siegelman, who is free on bond because an appellate court overturned parts of his conviction, has exhausted his appeals and was ordered to surrender to federal corrections authorities at the end of the first week in September.
Fuller subtracted nine months from Siegelman's six-and-one-half year sentence for time served before he was released to appeal his case.
"Governor Siegelman, it has been a long seven years," Fuller said at the end of the sentencing hearing. "Good luck to you."