William Owens, the suspended CFO of HealthSouth Corp., Birmingham, Ala., agreed to plead guilty to fraud and conspiracy charges in connection with allegations that the rehabilitation giant overstated earnings by as much as $1.4 billion since 1999. Owens, 44, a close confidant of HealthSouth founder and CEO Richard Scrushy, is the second top official to plead guilty to criminal charges in the case. In other HealthSouth news, reports indicated that work has been halted on HealthSouth's $300 million all-digital hospital, being built near the company's corporate headquarters. Owens' plea increases the likelihood of charges against the 50-year-old Scrushy, who founded HealthSouth in 1984 and developed the company into the nation's largest provider of outpatient surgery, diagnostic imaging and rehabilitation services. Scrushy was put on administrative leave by the HealthSouth board last week. Weston Smith, 42, who was CFO before Owens, pleaded guilty last week to four criminal charges, including securities fraud and the false certification of financial records, and agreed to cooperate with the federal investigation. -- by Michael Romano
HealthSouth CFO pleads guilty to fraud, conspiracy
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