Monday, 19 January 2015 00:00

The fall of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman and his daughter’s fight to set him free

Written by Rohan Smith | news.com.au

AS FALLS from grace go, the tale of Don Siegelman is hard to beat. From the halls of power, the 68-year-old former US governor now finds himself languishing in solitary confinement in prison, though exactly which one remains a mystery. He hasn’t been heard from in weeks, his family say, and there are fears he isn’t being fed or clothed properly.

But what landed Siegelman in the predicament he is in has become the subject of a growing debate, drawing in heavyweights such as Al Gore and Bill Clinton and including pressure on US President Barack Obama to issue an official pardon.

His family say it was naivety, but it all began with a $500,000 donation.

WHAT IS HE ACCUSED OF?

Don Siegelman was the 51st governor of Alabama and served as the state’s most successful Democrat from 1999-2003 before everything went horribly wrong.

He was accused of trading government favours for campaign donations when he was governor from 1999 to 2003 and lieutenant governor from 1995 to 1999. He was convicted on corruption charges and sentenced to seven years in prison, three of which he has served.

Richard Scrushy, the former CEO of HealthSouth, was accused of arranging a $500,000 donation to Siegelman’s political campaign in exchange for a seat on a state hospital board. But the case is far from clear cut.

Following Siegelman’s conviction, 113 former state attorneys general from 44 of the 50 US states wrote to the Supreme Court asking judges to hear an appeal. Notable American politicians including former presidents Clinton and Jimmy Carter both expressed their sympathies and former vice president Al Gore spoke out publicly on the matter.

Siegelman’s daughter Dana believes her father was “targeted by a group of Republican operatives, some in office, but most working for the Bush Administration in some capacity”. That position was explored by CBS’ 60 Minutes in 2008.

“Is Don Siegelman in prison because he’s a criminal or because he belonged to the wrong political party in Alabama?” the program asked.

The New Yorker last week ran a story outlining why President Obama should pardon Siegelman.

It argued the former governor should be free because his prosecution was political. It pointed to the involvement of Karl Rove, then a top White House aide to President Bush, who Ms Siegelman has long said was behind her father’s conviction.

“My father was railroaded by brilliant but corrupt people who knew how to take out political rivals,” she said.

“We can trace a clear and direct path of corruption in getting my father out of politics and into prison.”

‘I WANT TO KNOW: WHERE IS DON SIEGELMAN?’

Young, beautiful and Cambridge-educated, Dana Siegelman, 29, could do anything. Instead she has chosen to fight for her father, who has been held in solitary confinement at an unknown location.

“It pains me to think of him in strange jail cells waiting to be transported (between prisons),” she told news.com.au.

“I pray there are kind people around him and he is being treated well (but) I know one day they didn’t feed him at all.”

She said her father was on his way to Oakdale Federal Prison Camp but she has not heard from him in weeks.

“I am assuming he is at the Oklahoma Transition Center. I know he is in solitary confinement because that is how he is held when he is being transferred, and he has been in solitary confinement for over a month now. They will not let us visit him, and it seems he isn’t allowed to call either.”

On Facebook last week Ms Siegelman wrote: “I am losing my patience with the American justice and prison systems and I’d like to know: Where is Don Seigelman?”

‘HE WAS PRETTY NAIVE FOR A POLITICIAN

If you ask Dana why she has dedicated her life to fighting for her father, the answer is simple: “Dad is a phenomenal person, with a big heart,” she said.

“He literally hugs strangers on the street, including homeless people. He wants to help everyone, and I think he was pretty naive for a politician. Even today my dad’s heart carries those around him. He is a light and encouragement to the men in prison. I’ve received letters from inmates saying they believe they went to prison just so they could meet my dad because he changed their lives so much.”

To fight for her father, Ms Siegelman walked away from Cambridge University. She gave up her social life and her job and her friends. But she can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I’m grateful I made that sacrifice and believe Dad’s story had to be told. I’ll be more fulfilled in the end knowing that I fought for truth and justice and followed my heart.”

‘A CORRUPT AND FAULTY SYSTEM’

She says the US political system “demands’’ attention.

“The problem with the US is that we love to criticise other countries but we’re lazy and unwilling to face our own truths — the fact that we have a corrupt and faulty system that sentences thousands of innocent people to prison every year. We need a face lift, and the more we educate people about the problems, the more intelligent and active Americans will get in fixing these problems.”

She said her father’s case has opened her eyes to a flawed system.

“Many people in the US are wrongly targeted and convicted. Most of these are minorities, poor people without great legal representation, or young men who get framed for other people’s crimes.”

Link to original article from news.com.au

Read 6160 times