A federal grand jury indicted former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, HealthSouth ex-CEO Richard Scrushy and two others, accusing Siegelman of turning his public office into a criminal enterprise to solicit more than $1 million in payoffs, the Birmingham News reports. The indictment charges Siegelman and former staff chief Paul Hamrick of violating the Racketeer Influenced Criminal Organizations Act beginning in 1997, when Siegelman was lieutenant governor, and into his 1999-2003 term as governor. Prosecutors contended Siegelman and Hamrick solicited gifts and money both for their personal benefit and to fuel Siegelman’s political campaigns.
One allegation is that Scrushy paid $500,000 to Siegelman’s lottery campaign in exchange for a seat on the state board that decides whether hospitals can expand and for influence over that group’s decisions. Siegelman said the indictment stems from a few obsessed government officials who have spent taxpayers’ money in an attempt to control a governor’s election. Siegelman, a Democrat, is running for governor in 2006. “The charges are false. I’m going to be proven innocent again and we’re going to go on to win this primary and win this election,” Siegelman said. U.S. Department of Justice officials said the indictment sends a message that corruption in government will not be tolerated. “If you abuse the power of your office to advance your own political and financial interests at the expense of the people who elected you, the Department of Justice will identify you, investigate you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law,” said Noel Hillman, chief of the U.S. Department of Justice Public Integrity Section.