A pastor said Thursday that former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy paid him to advocate the executive's cause among Birmingham's black community during Scrushy's fraud trial in June.
Herman Henderson, pastor of Believers Temple Church, told The Birmingham News that he booked Scrushy to preach in black churches and brought supporters to the trial at the HealthSouth executive's request. And a writer for the Birmingham Times, the city's oldest black-owned newspaper, says that Scrushy paid her to write favorable articles, which he reviewed before print.
Scrushy denies the claims. A jury acquitted Scrushy on June 28 after determining he had nothing to do with a $2.7 billion fraud scheme in the chain of health clinics he led.
Henderson says Scrushy agreed to pay him $5,000 per month over two years. He showed the News copies of checks, signed by Scrushy, totaling $25,000. Scrushy told the News he gave that money to Henderson for a church building project and Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. So why did the pastor go public? He and the Times writer, Audry Lewis, say Scrushy still owes them $150,000.
Scrushy vehemently denies Henderson's account of their relationship. "That guy is a shyster," Scrushy told the News. "You need to know I'm about ready to sue him for extortion and he's harassed my family, my wife and I, ever since that trial began. He has stalked us. He has harassed us. He has tried to con us."
Other black pastors who supported Scrushy during the trial said he offered them nothing for their support. Bishop Theo Bailey, pastor of Christ Temple Deliverance, told the News that Henderson has earned a reputation for profiting from misfortune. Bailey said, "He's basically a guy who extorts money from people."
Before his trial, Scrushy left his church in an affluent, predominantly white Birmingham suburb and joined one of the city's most prominent black churches. He also launched a local Bible-study TV show and appeared frequently with black clergy. Many expressed concern that Scrushy wanted to stir up sympathy, especially among prospective black jurors. His jury comprised five whites and seven blacks.
When jurors began deliberating, Lewis wrote a front-page story about Scrushy's backing from Birmingham's black community, including many ministers. According to documents obtained by the Associated Press, the day Scrushy hired the Lewis Group, a PR firm run by the Times founder, the firm sent Lewis and Henderson checks for $5,000 each. That's when Lewis's articles began running on the newspaper's front page.
Scrushy told the News that he only reviewed the stories because he thought Lewis wanted him to check for accuracy. Scrushy also produced taped conversations from July that recount him telling Henderson, "I had no contact with you, written, verbal, or e-mail."
"Henderson can be heard objecting to Scrushy's contention of no agreement between the men," the News reported. "He retracted that objection in a tape-recorded conversation the next day, apologizing for asking for money and not disputing Scrushy's repeated contention that Henderson hadn't been hired to do anything."
The fraud case's lead prosecutor told the AP that Henderson and Lewis have not recounted anything that could warrant criminal charges against Scrushy. "It's not illegal to buy popularity," she told The Wall Street Journal.
The Times featured a Sunday-school lesson on their Web homepage Friday. The topic? Paul's instructions on church leadership from 1 Timothy 3:1-15. "Paul knew that the church needed leadership that would give proper direction, make wise decisions, and be a role model that inspired confidence and compliance on the part of its members."
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Other coverage of the story is available from The New York Times.