Prosecutors: Proxies used for advocacy

An inside look at legislative influence

Posted: Sunday, January 14, 2007

Federal prosecutors who accused Rep. Tom Anderson of bribery and other crimes say he also used another, unidentified legislator to carry out illegal acts.

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While Anderson was advocating for Cornell Companies, a Texas-based developer of private prisons, he also tried help Cornell win approval for a juvenile mental-health treatment center in Alaska.

To do that, he got another legislator to try to pressure the state Department of Health and Social Services to grant a certificate of need for Cornell's project, according to the Anderson indictment.

In competition with Cornell was North Star Behavioral Health Systems, an Alaska nonprofit that already had operations in Anchorage and Palmer. It was supported by a number of influential legislators, including Senate Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, and Sen. Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, president-elect of the Senate.

The indictment says Anderson, an Anchorage Republican, prevailed upon an "elected public official" to lobby for the certificate.

Documents obtained by the Empire show that Kohring was the only legislator who wrote a letter in support of the certificate during the time frame described in the indictment. Kohring did not return repeated phone calls last week.

In Kohring's letter to Health and Human Services officials, he wrote, "It has come to my attention" that Cornell was seeking a certificate of need for its project, but he didn't say how it had come to his attention.

Anderson's attorney, Paul Stockler, denied that the unnamed elected official was Kohring.

The only other letter to the state on behalf of the certificate was written by Rep. John Harris, now speaker of the House of Representatives. Harris said he did not recall how his letter came to be written.

"I write letters for a lot of people," he said.

Harris said he didn't recall talking with Anderson about the matter.

"He and I were never close," Harris said.

Prosecutors say in the indictment that they have tape recordings of Anderson and the "elected public official." In them, the official allegedly confirms that he contacted the department commissioner at Anderson's request.

Anderson already had been pushing Cornell projects. Bringing in six-term representative Kohring or Harris, then the Finance Committee chairman, may have increased Cornell's chances. The company dropped the project, however.

Anderson and Kohring were also on the payroll of Anchorage developer Marc Marlow.

In 2005, Anderson reported receiving $5,000 from Marlow; Kohring reported $38,100. Both indicated they were working for Marlow on city or borough - rather than state - projects.

Kohring listed among his duties: "assist with development of construction-related projects, including arranging and conducting meetings, performing research and developing plans and strategies."

Anderson told APOC he did "municipal government consulting" for Marlow.

Had either been working for Marlow or others on state projects and lobbying state officials, they would have been required to report it to the Legislative Ethics Committee. Neither did.

Nor did either report to the Ethics Committee that they'd been representing clients before the Legislature.

That is not surprising, said Joyce Anderson, committee staffer.

"You are not allowed to represent a client before the Legislature," she said.

Last year, Kohring asked another legislator, Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, to sponsor a bill providing a tax break for a Marlow project in Fairbanks.

"He didn't want to introduce it because of the ethical questions it would raise," Ramras said.

Ramras said Kohring did not try to hide Marlow's involvement.

"I thought that Rep. Kohring behaved ethically," he said. The issue was first reported by the Anchorage Daily News.

Ramras' bill passed not because Kohring supported it, Ramras said, but because it was good for Fairbanks. The building Marlow wanted to redevelop was one of Fairbanks' oldest and largest, but had been a drag on a struggling downtown for years.

"It was frozen, broken and nasty," Ramras said. The city couldn't even afford to tear down the massive concrete structure, and Marlow helped the city solve a problem.

No "representation for compensation" disclosure was filed in that case either. The Ethics Committee's Anderson said she was not allowed to say whether or not the committee was investigating a complaint in the incident.

Few legislators work for compensation before state agencies. One who does is Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, Anderson said. Much of his work is with the fisheries industry, and Weyhrauch frequently reports to the Ethics Committee that he is representing fishermen before the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission and elsewhere, she said.

Anderson's trial on charges of bribery, extortion and money laundering is scheduled for April 9. His attorney requested a delay due to conflicts with other trials and the time it would take to review 20 compact discs of audio and video recordings of evidence.

The U.S. Attorney's office for Alaska said Cornell did not pay off any legislators, and money used by the Cornell lobbyist for illegal payments was provided by the FBI as part of the investigation. A Cornell spokesperson said the company has been told it was not a target of the investigation.

Kohring was among six Legislators whose offices were searched by FBI agents last August. In November, he was re-elected to a seventh term in the House.

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