(WIAT) — Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman’s prosecution on federal corruption charges has raised questions about politics and the Department of Justice.
Red flags surfaced when former Federal District Judge Mark Fuller had Siegelman handcuffed, shackled and sent immediately to a federal prison on bribery and corruption charges in Alabama’s Middle District back in 2006.
Since that time, Siegelman has appealed his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming that he is a political prisoner, which is a notion rejected by the justice department.
If you ask political insiders, and those familiar with the inner workings of the Department of Justice like we did, they will tell you that Don Siegelman is in prison because of politics.
Just recently, Siegelman tried to discuss his case from prison in a live radio interview by telephone. But, he was abruptly cut off.
According to his son and attorney Joseph Siegelman, he was sent to confinement inside a Special Housing Unit at Oakdale Federal Corrections Institution. The younger Siegelman found that out after not hearing from his dad for weeks.
Joseph Siegelman said, “After 8 weeks knowing he was in there. That is when we said we had had enough and issued a press release. Sure enough, 24 hours later they released him, possibly due to press inquiries on the matter.”
Retired Federal Judge U.W. Clemon had this response to Siegelman’s treatment after that interview: “That’s rather alarming in a Democratic society and I’m very disappointed that the Obama administration would allow it to happen.”
In our investigation of the Siegelman case, CBS42 News has been denied an interview with Don Siegelman at Oakdale FCI 1. Warden Becky Clay sent us a denial letter nine months after our initial request, citing “security reasons.” The initial request was in July 2014.
We have repeatedly asked for a review of our request. As late as February 10, 2015, we have been told from a person familiar with our request but not authorized to give an official statement that “there is still no final decision made on the matter.”
According to Clemon, “It gives added weight to the contention, one in which I believe that Don Siegelman is in fact a political prisoner. I believe he is there because he engaged in the political activity of campaigning for governor and seeking to have the voters approve a lottery and that basically for that reason he is now in federal prison.”
Clemon served in Alabama’s Northern District for 30 years and has voiced major concerns about the peculiarity of the corruption cases brought against Siegelman dating back to 2002.
The case was assigned to three judges who didn’t hear it because of a series of recusals and threatened disqualifications.
That’s when it landed in front of then Judge U.W. Clemon who said, “There was judge shopping in the case in which I was involved. There is no doubt about that in my own mind.”
He says even after the case came before his court, prosecutors tried to have him disqualified.
“I very promptly overruled for disqualification and we proceeded to trial, not before the AUSA had sought to poison the jury pool by releasing all kinds of defamatory information about Mr. Seigelman for which I sanctioned him.”
It was Judge Clemon who tossed out the corruption charge on the first day of a highly publicized trial, accusing then-sitting Governor Don Siegelman of conspiracy in a Medicaid fraud trial.
That case had been brought forward by U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, a political appointee of President George W. Bush. Miles Hart was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District working on the case.
Clemon recalled what happened when he tossed out the corruption charge: “At that point, Mr. Hart and Ms. Martin dismissed the other charges. There were rumors at that time that Governor Siegelman would be faced with prosecution in the Middle District, but they were only rumors at that time. It just happened that later on, that is precisely what he was faced with. And that is the prosecution in the Middle District of Alabama.”
That’s when Siegelman was convicted of soliciting and receiving a $500,000 contribution for a state lottery campaign from former Health South CEO Richard Scrushy.
Both men were sent to federal prison in the case. Scrushy is out of prison. Siegelman is still behind bars.
This is a saga for 27-year-old Joseph Siegelman that has been going on for more than half of his life.
“First of all, the investigation began before I was a teenager,” Jospeh recalled. “My decision to go to law school was based solely on my understanding on the value and the power of law. How much harm it could do and how much good it could do.”
Joseph continued, “but I also wanted to protect myself and my family from anything like this.”
Former Alabama Attorney General Troy King says what happened with Siegelman is an epidemic in the U.S. Courts.
“These prosecutors have the FBI they have the unlimited resources of the federal government and they can do whatever they want. They are now doing it cloaked in secrecy behind the grand jury’s wall with nobody in there to say you’re out of bounds or what’s a crime.”
King is among more than one hundred current and former U.S. Attorney’s General who have signed a letter to the courts on behalf of another former governor convicted of federal corruption: Bob McDonell in Virginia.
King said he wanted to sign a similar letter submitted a decade ago for Don Siegelman but as a sitting state attorney general, the bar disallowed him.
King, who a Republican, is an unlikely supporter of democrat Don Siegelman when you consider Alabama politics–there are few blue dots in this very red state.
But both Troy King and Joseph Siegelman say selective prosecutions cross party lines.
“I have had something of a change of view about prosecution of political figures.”
King said politicians need to honor the public trust oath they take, and be punished when they don’t.
“However,” King said, “what it appears to me has occurred across the country, and I can speak about this because they had a grand jury investigate me for a year. And it was nothing more than trumped up politics by a lot of the same people who were involved in the Siegelman case.”
King says U.S. Attorneys need to prosecute crimes not people. But according to him, he’s seeing more politicians finding political allies in the prosecutor’s office, “and they will bring unlimited resources to destroy your political enemy. That is a very scary proposition it is very un-American. But we’ve seen it in Alabama, we saw it with Siegelman. We saw it with Milton McGregor in the gambling trials. We see with Bob McDonnell.”
Joseph Siegelman is watching the McDonnell case closely now that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear it. It might provide a chance for the high court to make a definitive ruling on the issue of what’s politics as usual or what’s a crime.
“There are some very interesting parallels and cross sections between those two cases,” Joseph Siegelman said. “The most clear and blatant demarcation between the two is my dad was never accused of putting any money in his pocket. Prosecutors agree to that. But Governor McDonnell was accused and convicted of pocketing to the tunes of hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal benefits from these contributors. Yet despite that clear difference between the two, Governor McDonnell is sentenced to 2 years in prison. My dad is sentenced to nearly 8 years in prison.”
The Siegelman defense team is asking for a full pardon. That can only come from President Obama. He has not intervened in this case.
U.W. Clemon said, “I have written the Attorney General requesting a pardon. Others have done so. My request was made more than two years ago and nothing has come by way of response. I do think it is a continuing injustice for the Obama administration not to pardon Don Siegelman under these circumstances.”