MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Ex-Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman continued Friday evening to deny he is guilty of taking bribes -- despite apologizing Friday in court before a judge sentenced him to six years for that and other crimes.
Siegelman, 66, and former HealthSouth chief Richard Scrushy were convicted in 2006. They arranged $500,000 in contributions to Siegelman's campaign for a state lottery in exchange for the governor appointing Scrushy to an important hospital regulatory board.
Before his sentencing that his lawyer called "cruel and unusual," the 66-year-old Siegelman told a judge that he "deeply regrets" the things he has done.
"I apologize to people for the embarrassment my actions have caused," Siegelman said.
U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller said the case has been hard on everyone, including Siegelman's family. He acknowledged the good things Siegelman had accomplished in his years of public service, but said they did not justify the crimes for which he was convicted. He allowed Siegelman to remain free and turn himself in by Sept. 11.
"It's been a long seven years," Fuller said. "Good luck to you."
But Siegelman insisted afterward in a statement to FoxBusiness that he wasn't guilty of bribery, saying that campaign finance laws remains hazy on what is and isn't allowed.
"Had I known the judge and jury would have inferred an explicit agreement through the testimony of two convicted felons, both who traded prison time for testifying against me, I would have demanded that my lawyers let me testify," he said. "I truly never though it would come to this.
"I am now asking the president to commute my sentence not only for the sake of my family, but also as part of a broader effort to bring clarity to the intersection of campaign finance and criminal law."
Siegelman, who served one term from 1999 to 2003, was originally sentenced to more than seven years in prison. Fuller sentenced him to 6 1/2 on Friday. He served about nine months before being released pending his appeals. Fuller knocked those months off Siegelman's sentence. He also was ordered to serve two years on probation and pay a $50,000 fine.
His sentence is about equal to that of Scrushy's. He recently finished his nearly five-year prison sentence in Houston.
Several character witnesses took the stand in Siegelman's behalf, including his adult daughter, Dana Siegelman.
She called her father a "wonderful man" and said he felt guilty when he had to go to prison the first time.
"He was devastated that he had let us down," she said referring to herself, her mother, Lori, and her brother, Joseph.
Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods also testified on the ex-governor's behalf.
Siegelman served as Alabama's attorney general before he was governor, and 90 or so of his former colleagues had filed court briefs urging that he not be sent back to jail. They did so because they know and like their former colleague and many questioned whether campaign contributions constitute bribes.
Woods said it would serve no good purpose for Siegelman to be back in jail and that the public would be better off if he served community service.
Fuller said the Bureau of Prisons will decide where Siegelman will serve his time, but that he would recommend a prison close to home.
Over the years, supporters have blasted Siegelman's prosecution, claiming it was driven by partisan politics. Backers have waged an aggressive Internet campaign to get Siegelman's conviction overturned, with some suggesting President Barack Obama, a fellow Democrat, should pardon him.
The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year refused to hear his case.
One of the character witnesses was Sephira Shuttlesworth, the widow of the late civil rights leader Fred Shuttlesworth. She said Siegelman spent a lot of time with her husband in the days before he died.
"The Don Siegelman that I know is not one who intentionally would do the things I'm hearing about," she said. "The people I walk with love Don Siegelman."
Besides governor and attorney general, Siegelman had been secretary of state and lieutenant governor in Alabama.
Fox Business' Eric Spinato and the Associated Press contributed to this report.