William Owens, a former chief financial officer and briefly chief executive officer at HealthSouth Corp., Birmingham, Ala., was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in massive accounting fraud at the company. Owens pleaded guilty to three counts -- conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud and filing false certification of financial information with the Securities and Exchange Commission. He is the last to be sentenced among five former HealthSouth CFOs who pleaded guilty in connection with the scheme, and his sentence, handed down by a U.S. District Court judge in Birmingham, was the longest. Owens is contesting the government's request that he forfeit $12 million in assets, and a hearing likely will be scheduled for late January, a court clerk said.
Owens began working at HealthSouth in 1987 and held several executive positions, including CFO from February 2000 to August 2001, president and chief operating officer in the subsequent 12 months and CEO between August 2002 and January 2003. He cooperated with the federal government in its investigation of former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, secretly recording conversations, and was a key prosecution witness. Scrushy's defense blamed Owens for the fraud, which the government said totaled some $2.64 billion in overstated earnings. A jury acquitted Scrushy of the criminal charges. He still faces SEC claims. -- by Joseph Mantone