BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A writer who turned out a stream of sympathetic newspaper stories about fired HealthSouth Corp. chief executive Richard Scrushy during his fraud trial says Scrushy secretly paid her $11,000 through a public relations firm and typically reviewed her articles before publication.
Documents show that the PR firm wrote thousands of dollars in checks to Audry Lewis, whose freelance articles appeared in the Birmingham Times, a small but influential black newspaper.
The documents also show that money from the PR firm went to a pastor who says he was paid to help bring fellow black preachers into the courtroom in a bid to sway the mostly black jury.
Scrushy, acquitted in June of involvement in a $2.7 billion accounting fraud at the chain of health clinics, strongly denied authorizing payments to Lewis or the pastor, Herman Henderson, for any work on his behalf. The executive said he did give money to Henderson's church for a building fund and Hurricane Katrina relief.
The lead prosecutor in the Scrushy case said there was nothing criminal in what Lewis and Henderson described, and members of the jury have said the only thing that influenced them was a lack of evidence against the defendant.
But the payments raise questions about the legitimacy of the ostensibly grass-roots support for Scrushy seen throughout his trial.
During the trial, prosecutors worried that Scrushy was attempting to sway community opinion -- and possibly the jury -- with a Bible-study program he hosts on local TV, as well as a daily show about the trial that aired on a local-access channel purchased by Scrushy's son-in-law.
Lewis and Henderson said Scrushy still owes them a combined $150,000. An attorney for Scrushy said the allegations and the request for more money ''could be perceived as a shakedown."