BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The jury in the corporate fraud trial of former HealthSouth Corp. (search) chief executive Richard Scrushy (search) adjourned Thursday without even considering the case because a juror fell ill, a federal court official said.
The unexpected turn occurred on what would have been a tenth day of deliberations for the jury, which has split over the main conspiracy charge leveled against Scrushy.
The U.S. government accuses the flamboyant multimillionaire of directing a $2.7 billion accounting fraud at the medical rehabilitation company in a bid to inflate its profits and enrich himselg case, they have become increasingly silent amid growing signs of confusion and division among the seven male and five female jurors and talk of a possible mistrial.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, the lead prosecutor in the case, declined to comment on the jury's sudden adjournment. But Scrushy's defense team went out of its way again Thursday to praise the jurors.
"When we picked them, we felt like they were the type of people who could get the job done," said a confident Jim Parkman, one of Scrushy's attorneys.
The jury, which has asked U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre for help with the case more than half a dozen times since deliberations began May 19, is scheduled to resume its work Friday, according to Sharon Harris, chief deputy of the federal court in Birmingham, where Scrushy was tried.
Besides the conspiracy count, Scrushy faces multiple counts of mail and wire fraud, money laundering and other wrongdoing in connection with a scheme to inflate the company's earnings and allegedly enrich himself between 1996 and 2002.
In addition, he is the first major figure charged with violating the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act (search), the corporate reform law passed by Congress requiring, among other things, that chief executives certify the accuracy of their financial statements.
Scrushy did so before stepping down in 2002 as CEO of HealthSouth, which he had built into the nation's largest chain of rehabilitation and outpatient surgery clinics. He was ousted as the company's chairman the following year.
If convicted, the 52-year-old Alabama native could spend the rest of his life in prison.
The government says Scrushy, who hosts a religion-inspired television show and regularly preaches in Christian churches in this Bible-Belt city, directed the fraud to inflate the value of his stock options and fund an extravagant lifestyle. He sold more than $200 million worth of stock.
Scrushy's defense team has admitted it wanted as many religious believers as possible sitting on the jury. Alabama has a large number of fundamentalist Christians and a high church attendance rate.
Tales of his lavish spending have outraged many HealthSouth investors, who saw the Birmingham-based company's stock plummet from a high of $30.56 a share in 1998 to 8 cents a share shortly after the fraud came to light in 2003.
Defense lawyers have portrayed Scrushy as an unknowing victim of a scheme by other HealthSouth executives who agreed to testify for the prosecution to avoid harsh prison terms.
Fifteen former HealthSouth officials have pleaded guilty to charges related to the fraud. Scrushy did not testify at his trial.