ALABAMA | 2006 | Governor

Corrupt Officials Filed Fraudulent Charges to Derail their Party's Opponent

An innocent man was sent to federal prison on trumped up charges to prevent him from running for reelection.

OVERVIEW

  • Political Target: Karl Rove and associates abused their power to stifle the rise of Don Siegelman as a popular southern Democrat. Rove's network of corrupt officials dogged Siegelman for years with fraudulent investigations.
  • Extortion: The threat of prosecution had been used to deter Don Siegelman from pursuing a recount in the 2002 governor's race.
  • Bogus Charges: Siegelman was then indicted on a trumped up bribery charge when he ran for reelection in 2006.
  • False Witness: The prosecution's key witness was a criminal who had to be coached more than 70 times to get his fabricated story straight.
  • Corrupt Judge: Karl Rove's associates chose Mark Fuller, a biased judge with a grudge against Siegelman, to handle the case. Fuller used the threat of a long trial to pressure a hung jury into returning a guilty verdict.
  • Politial Imprisonment: Fuller sentenced Siegelman to seven years in federal prison and had him immediately shackled—a harsh sentence and unusual procedure for a nonviolent offense.
  • Whistleblower: Republican operative Dana Jill Simpson testified that Karl Rove coordinated the vendetta against Don Siegelman in conspiracy with Alabama officials and partisan federal attorneys.


A POLITICAL TARGET

As a popular southern Democrat in a red state, Don Siegelman had a target on his back. After Siegelman's loss of the Alabama governorship - widely believed to  be electronically rigged - Karl Rove and his associates conspired to keep him out of politics forever. Their political warping of the law and abuse of the U.S. attorney's office eventually landed Siegelman in jail on trumped up bribery charges.

 

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

Alabama Attorney General William Pryor was a key player in Siegelman's political persecution. Pryor had been pursuing Siegelman since at least 1998.

As Scott Horton writes in Harper's magazine, Pryor "used his position to initiate a criminal investigation of Siegelman within weeks of Siegelman’s inauguration as governor." It is believed that Pryor's grudge against Siegelman stemmed in part from his criticism of Pryor's connections to the tobacco industry.

Pryor also had deep ties with the local and national Republican Party. His campaign managers in 1998 were Karl Rove and Bill Canary. Bill Canary went on to serve as campaign manager to Siegelman's 2002 opponent Bob Riley.

 

EXTORTION ENDS RECOUNT

Given these blatant conflicts of interest, Pryor should have recused himself from any decisions pertaining to the 2002 election.

Instead, after electronic manipulation of vote totals in Baldwin County, Pryor quickly sealed the ballots in order to preempt a recount.

According to whistleblower Dana Jill Simpson, a Republican operative who conducted opposition research on Siegelman for the Riley campaign, Siegelman was deterred from pursuing the recount by the threat of Pryor's investigation.

 

BOGUS CHARGES

Karl Rove's network of officials went on to derail Siegelman's 2006 reelection campaign, dogging him for years with fraudulent indictments.

Bill Canary’s wife, Leura, was another key player. She had been appointed a federal attorney by Karl Rove's boss, George W. Bush. Leura Canary took over Pryor’s investigation of Siegelman and had him indicted in 2004 for rigging Medicaid contracts. The charges were dropped before going to trial. The judge threw out the case and held the prosecuting attorneys in contempt of court.

Leura Canary indicted Siegelman again in 2005—for allegedly accepting a donation for a nonprofit foundation in return for appointing healthcare executive Richard Scrushy to the Alabama hospital regulatory board.

This specious accusation of bribery should have gone nowhere: Scrushy had already served on that board several times under Republican administrations, and Siegelman derived no personal gain from the nonprofit foundation.

But this time around Rove's associates found a compliant and corrupt judge.

 

CORRUPT JUDGE

Mark Fuller was not neutral or trustworthy. He was a Bush appointee like Leura Canary. He also owned a defense contractor that did tens of millions of dollars of business with the U.S. government.

Fuller had a history of conflict with Siegelman: He had tried to defraud the Alabama retirement system while serving as an Alabama district attorney, but a Siegelman appointee stopped him.

The Siegelman trial over which Fuller presided was fraught with irregularities: There were strong indications of jury tampering; evidence of selective prosecution was disallowed; and two jury deadlocks were sent back by Fuller for further deliberation when he should have declared a mistrial or dismissed the charges.

Fuller was eventually forced from the bench for beating his wife.

 

KEY WITNESS LIED

The prosecution's case leaned heavily on testimony from an unreliable witness. Siegelman aide Nick Bailey claimed to have seen the governor with a check in his hand after meeting Richard Scrushy.

But the date on the check revealed that his story wasn't true. According to Siegelman's lawyer, the prosecutors knew about this discrepancy.

Bailey told 60 Minutes that the prosecution had coached him on his story more than 70 times. He admitted that during those sessions he had trouble remembering details.

What's more, Bailey had been extorting money from Alabama businessmen. Facing ten years in prison, Bailey had cooperated with prosecutors to reduce his sentence.

 

WHISTLEBLOWER REVEALS CONSPIRACY

Dana Jill Simpson says the case against Siegelman was politicized from the very start.

Simpson was on a conference call when it was revealed that Bob Riley and Bill Canary had had conversations with Karl Rove about the Siegelman case, and that Rove had spoken with the Department of Justice about “pursuing” Siegelman.

Bill Canary also allegedly told Riley’s staff that “his girls” would deal with Siegelman—meaning his wife Leura Canary, and Alice Martin, another federal attorney appointed by George W. Bush.

Simpson went on to testify that Judge Fuller had been deliberately chosen because he would “hang” Siegelman.

 

POLITICAL IMPRISONMENT

Fuller used the threat of an extended trial to force the tired jury into returning a guilty verdict. Fuller then handed Siegelman an extreme sentence of more than seven years. Adding further insult, Siegelman was immediately shackled and sent to prison.

More than 100 state attorneys general have decried the Siegelman prosecution as politically motivated and aberrant, asking the Supreme Court to review his case. John Conyers and other members of the House Judiciary Committee agree.

As recently as December 2015, Don Siegelman was being held in solitary confinement for weeks on end.


READ MORE

"The Curious Case of Don Siegelman," Mimi Kennedy, Huffington Post.

"Noel Hillman and the Siegelman Case," Scott Horton, Harper's.

"Siegelman's Judge Accused of Beating Wife," Andrew Krieg, Justice Integrity Project.

"Did Ex-Alabama Governor Get A Raw Deal?" CBS 60 Minutes.

"Why Obama Should Pardon Don Siegelman," Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker.