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The Political Prosecution of Gov. Don Siegelman

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Conservative legal analyst Bruce Fine has noted that "We have a Justice Department that has substantially been turned into a political arm of the White House." Many of the facts surrounding the federal conviction of former Alabama Governor illustrate this. This case, at the very least, involves a politically inspired and malicious prosecution. The case is a shocking illustration that justice is again off the tracks in Alabama.

Siegelman was found guilty of bribery and sentenced to 7 years, 4 months in prison in June 2007. Richard Scrushy, a wealthy Health South executive, gave $500,000 to Siegelman's Alabama lottery campaign to support education and the governor appointed him to a state hospital board. The three previous governors had appointed this man to state boards in return for contributions. Not long ago, the lead prosecutor handled the conviction of another Alabama governor. In that case, the defendant profited personally but the prosecutor still recommended probation. The Siegelman case was unusual in that the defendant did not profit from the so-called bribe, and the rewarding of a contributor with an appointment is not unusual at the state or federal level. Professor Stephen Gillers of the New York University School of Law noted that the prosecution was unable to prove corrupt intent.

Siegelman was Alabama's leading Democrat, having been elected to each of the state's four top offices. This case puts a permanent end to his political career. It should be considered in the context of a hard-fought reelection campaign in 2002, which Siegelman conceded to Rob Riley after a two-week legal battle. During the campaign, a GOP deep cover operative was photographed placing Riley signs at a Klan rally. The idea was to then claim the man was a Siegelman employee. Siegelman lost after the results in heavily Republican Baldwin Country were restated to reduce his total by more than 7,000 votes. It was said that a computer glitch caused his total to be overstated. No Democrats were present when the county's returns were restudied and restated. Attorney General Bob Prior ruled that there was nothing wrong with the procedures involved in restating the vote, and state courts upheld him.

On the day Siegelman conceded the election, former Alabama Supreme Court justice Terry Butts told Republican sources he knew how to get Siegelman to concede. It could have been a reference to the Schrushy appointment. By then the GOP controlled the courts in Alabama.

It is claimed that beneath the surface, the fierce opposition to Siegelman in 2002 was due to his efforts to head off casino gambling on Indian reservations. These activities were to be controlled by Russian organized crime, Christian coalition people, and other conservatives. Imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff had been involved in the scheme. The governor was unable to derail the complex scheme, which even included then Congressman Riley assisting one Mississippi tribal casino that contributed heavily to him by blocking one proposed by Alabama Native Americans. A scandal subsequently erupted involving fraud connected with casino identity cards. Some Alabama businessmen who invested in the casinos also were bilked out of millions.The Bare Facts of the Case The case was based on the testimony of one aide, who has admitted to taking bribes without the governor's knowledge. He also admitted that he was not present when Siegelman appointed Scrushy to the board.

During the sentencing procedure, the home of Susan James, one of his lawyers, was entered and her files accessed. Nothing appeared to have been taken.

Prosecutors also demanded that he pay $118,000 in restitution charges connected with charges on which a jury acquitted him. The judge first ruled for the prosecution and later changed his mind.

Chief Federal District Judge Mark E. Fuller denied bail while the case was on appeal. The judge also denied granting the former governor the customary 45 days the convicted are given to put their affairs in order. Siegelman was shackled in leg irons and handcuffs and taken out of the courtroom and off to a federal penitentiary. In essence, the judge decided the former governor was an extreme flight risk. Maybe this was because Civil Rights leader Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth stood by the former governor during the trial. The civil rights hero managed to escape his house in 1956 when the Klan tried to blow it up with 16 sticks of dynamite.

The U.S. Marshall's service provided him with a tour of federal prisons, feeding him bologna sandwiches and similar fare and only permitting him to read the King James version of the Bible. The tour started in Atlanta; then he was moved in the middle of the night to Texarkana, passing through Michigan, New York, and Oklahoma. He is now in Oakdale, Louisiana. The former governor is working as a prison janitor and doing a lot of pushups.

Before sentencing, Siegelman took his case to the press. Prosecutors retaliated by threatening to charge him with obstruction of Justice and heaping "disrespect on this court." Judge Fuller wasted no time in indicating that 5 to 7 years could be added to the sentence. After the sentencing, the prosecution again raised the threat of contempt charges and obstruction of justice charges.

The Judge sealed filings that he recuse himself from the case because of his large interests in closely held corporations that did a great deal of business with the federal government. Attorneys involved were also placed under a gag order not to disclose these facts.

Suggestions that the Prosecution was Politically Tainted Acting US Attorney Louis V. Franklin, who put Siegelman away, claimed that only he had decided to indict Siegelman, but he took over the case only after others had pursued the matter. Franklin went out of his way to insist that Carl Rove was not involved in the case in any way. He made the very unusual claim that he was able to act virtually independent of Washington in this case. In his zeal to nail Siegelman, he requested a 30 year sentence.

G. Douglas Jones, one of Siegelman's lawyers and himself a former U.S. attorney has learned that when the Siegelman investigation seemed to be running out of steam, people in Washington insisted that the local US attorney "Take another look at everything." Jones says that the Public Integrity Section of the DOJ was "intimately involved."

Josh Marshall recently reported that unnamed lawyers in the DOJ believe the Department should take another look at the case and the prosecution. The House Judiciary Committee is attempting to review the matter, but it turns out that some of Rove's e-mails relating to his Rosemary Beach dinner party for Steve Feaga ,one of the prosecutors , have been lost. It was reported that Assistant Attorney General Craig Morford and former Senator Fred Thompson also attended the dinner party.

After the Siegelman was jailed, U.S. Attorney Feaga threatened to bring obstruction of justice charges against Siegelman. Most likely he was referring to efforts to interest the press in this highly unusual case. Colonel Feaga is a reservist who is connected to t he JAG office at Langley Air Force Base, where Doss Aviation is a fuel distributor. It is possible that Feaga could play a role in reviewing the contracts let there.

Jill Simpson's Testimony

Dana Jill Simpson of Rainsville, Alabama, a Republican operative and attorney, signed an affidavit one month before the sentencing in which she swore that campaign workers discussed pressing the case against the governor in a 2002 teleconference with Rob Riley as a way to force Siegelman to not pursue his case in the disputed election. Simpson said she also heard Canary say he would get two of " his girls "-US attorneys in Alabama- "to take care" of Sieligman. One of the women was Canary's wife who was eventually forced to recuse herself from the investigation.

During the call, the governor's son, Rob, said that the work of "these girls" would insure Siegelman could never run for office again. She added that Bob Canary said he had discussed the matter with his friend Carl Rove. In her deposition to the House Judiciary Committee, Jill Simpson testified that Rob Riley, Jr., son of Governor Bob Riley, vowed that Judge Mark Fuller would "hang Don Siegelman." The younger Riley had several conversations with her about using the federal justice system against Siegel man. She told the House investigators, "Rob told me that Mark Fuller was still a government contractor in 2005 and a United States federal judge, which I found unusual." Did this mean the judge, a known partisan anyhow, was certain to cooperate because of these economic ties to the federal government? Rob also said that "they" had come up with a way to prosecute Siegelman again in a conversation that referred to the judge as a former member of the Executive Committee of the Alabama Republican Committee. It would be worth knowing what "they" meant.

Mr. Canary had received $38,000 for serving as advisor to Riley's running mate, Steve Windom, and that money flowed into a joint account with Canary's wife, Leura. William Canary then became Riley's campaign advisor. After the election, his wife Leura fact used her job as assistant U.S. Attorney against Siegelman. Republican political operative Bob Canary admitted under oath that he had been instrumental in getting the Department of Justice to go after Siegelman.

The governor's attorneys did not use Simpson's sworn statement; perhaps it came in too late to introduce this document.

Ms. Simpson's house was burned to the ground and her car forced off the road by an Alabama law enforcement officer and was totaled. Attacks upon her have caused her to reaffirm her statement and add:

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Sherm is a retired educator who lives in Pennsylvania. He writes about baseball, religion, and politics. He has recently published African American Baseball, A Short History, which can be purchased through on-line book marketers. He is about (more...)
 

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The Political Prosecution of Gov. Don Siegelman

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