HealthSouth Corp. yesterday agreed to pay $100 million to settle Securities and Exchange Commission charges over a massive accounting fraud at the Birmingham rehabilitation hospital company.
The SEC deal closes another chapter for HealthSouth, which has ushered in new managers after a $2.7 billion accounting fraud that produced criminal charges against more than a dozen former employees, including founder Richard M. Scrushy.
HealthSouth, which did not admit or deny wrongdoing, also agreed to hire consultants to strengthen its governance practices and financial controls as part of the settlement. The company said it will pay securities regulators in five installments, starting in the fourth quarter of 2005. The agreement requires the approval of a federal judge.
New chief executive Jay Grinney in a prepared statement called the deal "a major milestone." Corporate officials told investors they will complete an earnings restatement for the years 2000 to 2003 by the end of this month. Wiping out traces of the bookkeeping fraud has eaten up hundreds of hours.
U.S. Attorney Alice H. Martin has praised HealthSouth's new leaders for their cooperation with her ongoing probe and has signaled that she would not bring criminal charges against the company.
Meanwhile, jurors hearing the conspiracy and securities fraud case against Scrushy ended their 12th day of deliberations without reaching a verdict. The jury broke for the weekend and will return to the Birmingham courthouse Monday. At least two members of the jury have prepaid vacations for the remainder of this week, according to court officials.
The seven men and five women on the jury have sent four notes indicating that they cannot reach a unanimous verdict on the conspiracy count of nearly three dozen criminal charges against Scrushy. All five of HealthSouth's former finance chiefs pleaded guilty and implicated Scrushy in the fraud. Scrushy is the first corporate leader to stand accused of violating the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which requires top executives to vouch for the accuracy of their financial statements.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Karon O. Bowdre urged jurors to try harder to break their deadlock, pointing out that extensive time and money had been spent on the trial, which began Jan. 25. There have been no further public signs from the jury since late last week.