ANCHORAGE — Two former state lawmakers pleaded guilty Friday to federal corruption charges, marking an end to what the U.S. attorney called the largest and most successful corruption investigation ever in Alaska.
Pete Kott, a former House speaker, pleaded guilty to bribery concerning programs that receive federal funds. Vic Kohring pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs that receive federal funds. The charges stem from maneuverings surrounding a 2006 oil tax vote in the state Legislature, and the pleas came under terms of agreements reached with prosecutors.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline sentenced each to time served, along with a period of supervised release. Kott was also fined $10,000. Kohring didn’t have the financial resources to pay a fine, prosecutors said.
The two were convicted on corruption charges in 2007 after being caught in a wide-ranging probe of political corruption that also ensnared then-U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, who was killed last year in a plane crash.
Prosecutors won several convictions in connection with the investigation. But questions surrounded the government’s handling of cases after Stevens’ conviction in 2008 of lying on financial disclosure forms about gifts, an outcome that ended his political career. A judge later threw out the case finding that prosecutors had withheld evidence at trial. An appeals court made similar findings in the Kott and Kohring cases earlier this year.
New trials were ordered for the two. Kohring’s was to begin Oct. 31 and Kott’s was scheduled later this year.
The Justice Department oversaw the initial trials of Kott and Kohring, who returned to the U.S. attorney’s office in Alaska after the new trials were ordered.
U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler told reporters Kott and Kohring were entitled to a fair trial and the government would have given them one. “But they went with the evidence and decided to plead guilty,” she said.
Kott and Kohring appeared before Beistline in separate hearings Friday. Both took responsibility for their actions.
Kott, 62, speaking in a clear, strong voice, told Beistline he’s ready to move on with his life. “I want to close this chapter of my life and start afresh, and again be a contributing member of society,” he said.
Kohring, 53, who wore a hooded sweat shirt over his dress shirt and tie, declined to make a personal statement.
Kott’s plea agreement says he “solicited and accepted” $7,993 from Bill Allen, then-CEO of the oil services company VECO, in the form of a false invoice and phony payment to Kott’s flooring business. It also says he solicited a job from Allen and got $1,000 in cash from him.
In a sentencing memorandum, Kott’s attorney, Peter Camiel, said Kott recognizes his close relationship with Allen “created an appearance of impropriety” and that his “receipt of benefits from Allen” during the 2006 legislative session, while a vote on oil production taxes was pending, “crossed the line between what is and what is not legal.”
Kott served about 17 months of an original six-year sentence following his 2007 conviction. Court records show he also has been on pretrial supervision, both before his trial and since his release, for a total of about 30 months.
Prosecutors said Kohring has been under condition of release and court supervision for about 28 months since his release from prison. He served about a year of a 31/2 year sentence.
Kohring, in his plea agreement, acknowledged taking $1,000 from Allen that he said Allen described as a gift. But Kohring said he knew, based on past conversations with another VECO official and the importance of the tax vote to Allen and VECO, that Allen “was intending to influence my votes and other official actions in the Alaska State Legislature.”
Kohring also acknowledged asking for and receiving $17,000 from Allen for personal credit card debt.
Allen was the government’s star witness in the trials of Stevens, Kott and Kohring. He was convicted of bribery and related tax charges.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis said Kohring knowingly became a part of the conspiracy to bribe elected officials when he took the money. Feldis said Kohring also spoke with other lawmakers about the tax bill and provided information as to how they would vote to Allen and Rick Smith, another VECO executive.
But Kohring’s attorney, Michael Filipovic, in court Friday downplayed Kohring’s role, saying he wasn’t relied heavily upon to move the legislation and didn’t hold much sway, anyway, with colleagues.
Beistline said Kott sold his soul to Allen and Smith — men he described as greedy, unscrupulous and amoral. The judge told Kohring that in dealing with Allen and Smith, he lost sight of his values. “And for what?” he asked. “A pittance.”
Beistline called the period of corruption that included these players “a truly dark moment in the state’s history.”
“This whole sorry affair must send shudders through anyone in Juneau who’s thinking about crossing the line,” Beistline said later.
Loeffler said there have been 10 convictions stemming from the federal investigation, with six of those convicted now-former state lawmakers.
“I think we have a better government today, where deals are not made in the backroom of a hotel, hidden from the view of citizens,” she said.
“It’s important that government be fair, open and honest. We’re not a third-world country. We’re the United States of America, and we will prosecute these cases and pursue them wherever and whenever necessary to support the citizens and what people expect here.”