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Released from Prison and Turning a New Leaf



Bill Owens, the admitted architect of the massive accounting fraud at HealthSouth Corp., was released from prison on Friday still weighed down by the burden of destruction he caused others and the company he loved. He is now in a better place mentally and spiritually than when he helped fake earnings at HealthSouth to $2.7 billion in order to meet Wall Streets expectations.

“I will always carry a tremendous amount of guilt that the first day I was asked to do it, had I said ‘no’ it would have at least postponed it from starting and it might have prevented it altogether,” Owens said.

Owens was the architect of the fraud because he knew how to hide the fraud in such a way that auditors wouldn’t detect it. He was not the “mastermind” behind the ultimate plan but refused to give names of those who helped put together the scheme. Owens was, however, one of the first to blow the whistle and testify against former chief executive Richard Scrushy. Owens doesn’t blame Scrushy, who faces a $2.8 billion civil judgment, and takes no pleasure from his current incarceration.

“I made the decision to tell the truth on my knees in prayer and I have felt good about that decision from the start.”

The Decision

“Sometime around two in the morning, I finally got down on my hands and knees and prayed and while I was praying a great sense of calm came over me and I came to the realization that the only option I had was to tell the truth,” he said.

The following day at work Owens prepared himself to tell investigators how their current insider trading investigation paled in comparison to the massive accounting fraud that had gone undetected for years at one of the nation’s largest healthcare companies.

Owens not only gave up his freedom by telling the truth but lost his three houses, boats, and many other material possessions as well as ending his marriage and straining his relationship with his children.

“I paid my debt to society and I paid a very dear price,” he said. “I realize I had my priorities wrong for a lot of years. The things that I focused on were just the wrong things. I had to come to the realization that I was not a very good husband or a very good father.”

Owens’ time in prison gave him plenty of time to reflect on his life and the decisions he made to bring him to where he was.

“I think I have a handle on what my priorities should be,” Owens said. “The size of the number in my bank account is no longer a priority for me and it should have never been a priority for me. I made way too many decisions based on that and I will never let that happen again.”

Aims to help

After his time in jail Owens would like to help prevent others from falling into fraudulent ways. Owens now would like to help boards of directors, auditors, and others learn how to keep similar frauds from happening. He wants to teach them how to detect fraud within their companies.

Owens will be speaking with a group of graduate students at UAB’s business school on Wednesday night to tell how the fraud at HealthSouth was carried out and what red flags they should be aware of throughout their careers.

Now that Owens is out of prison, don’t expect to see him living in the fast lane, figuratively or literally.

“If you get behind me driving right now, you’re going to hate me because I don’t even drive the speed limit,” he said.

Owens says the mechanics of the fraud were not the real key to it going undetected.

“All we really did in our fraud was control people’s access to information,” he said. “I don’t say this in a braggadocios sort of way, but we were good at what we did. I’m not proud of that fact, but we were good at it. The fact is they didn’t catch us, we turned ourselves in,” Owens said. “Would they have caught us eventually? Who knows?”




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