MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman was released from a federal prison in Louisiana and arrived home Wednesday after serving a six-year sentence for bribery and obstruction of justice.
Siegelman grinned widely and waved to a small group of cheering supporters and relatives as he walked through the Birmingham airport after landing on a commercial flight.
"We're grateful and happy and blessed that he's back," said daughter Dana Siegelman, rubbing her father's arm.
Siegelman is still technically in federal custody and can't talk to the media; his daughter put her hand over his mouth when he appeared about to speak with reporters.
Siegelman, 70, must report to a federal probation office and is expected to go to his home in suburban Birmingham to serve the remainder of his sentence on house arrest, longtime aide Chip Hill said.
"As this dark and difficult time in his life comes to an end, Don Siegelman's courage and grace and innocence shine through. We are overjoyed at the thought that we will have him back with us again. At a time of such unrest and uncertainty, the world will be a better place with Don Siegelman back in it," Siegelman's lawyer Gregory B. Craig said in a statement issued Wednesday morning.
A federal jury in 2006 convicted Siegelman on charges that he sold a seat on a state regulatory board to HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy in exchange for $500,000 in donations to Siegelman's signature political issue — his 1999 campaign to establish a state lottery. He was convicted on a separate obstruction of justice charge that he tried to hide money he received from a lobbyist.
Siegelman, who maintained his innocence, waged a lengthy battle in court, and in the media, to try to overturn his conviction. His lawyers argued his prosecution was motivated by Republicans upset by the Democrat's political success and that the conviction was backed up by scant evidence.
Appellate courts upheld the convictions as Department of Justice attorneys argued the evidence was clear that Siegelman corruptly sold the board appointment after Scrushy — who initially supported another candidate for governor — agreed to contribute heavily to Siegelman's push to start a state lottery to fund education.
Siegelman for decades was a dominating figure in Alabama politics, holding the offices of secretary of state, attorney general, lieutenant governor and governor. He served as Alabama's governor from 1999 to 2003. He was the last Democrat to hold the position in the deeply red state.
Siegelman's longtime supporters cheered the release of the Democrat, whom they had likened to a political prisoner, planning to wave signs to welcome him home as Siegelman was driven to the probation office in Birmingham to complete his release.
Hill said Siegelman is expected to be on a "very restrictive supervised probation" for about six months.
President Barack Obama before leaving office denied a clemency petition from Siegelman.
AP photographer Brynn Anderson contributed to this report from Birmingham.