Feds to complete review of Alaska cases by July

Defense attorneys likely to argue convictions should be dropped due to prosecutorial misconduct; prosecutors give no indications of intentions

Posted: Thursday, June 18, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Federal prosecutors by the end of next month will complete their review of misconduct that may have contributed to the convictions of two Alaska lawmakers.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Trusty said Wednesday all documents pertaining to the review of cases of former House Speaker Pete Kott and former Rep. Vic Kohring would be delivered to defense attorneys by July 31.

"We think we can easily meet that," Trusty said at a hearing before U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick.

Both sides will have an additional month, until Aug. 31, to review results of the internal Department of Justice investigation before they recommend what steps should be taken.

Defense attorneys likely will argue the convictions of Kott and Kohring should be thrown out and the cases dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct.

Prosecutors gave no indications of their intentions other than to complete the review.

Kott and Kohring in 2007 were convicted of accepting bribes to push legislation favorable to the oil industry.

Prosecutors and the FBI before the 2006 legislative session began a lengthy investigation into corruption within the Alaska Legislature using wiretaps and other recording devices.

The investigation focused on officials of VECO Corp., an oil field services company that did millions of dollars in contracting work for oil producers, including design, construction and maintenance jobs. Its chairman was Bill Allen, one of Alaska's richest men and a behind-the-scenes political operative who helped raise thousands of dollars to political candidates who favored his pro-development agenda.

Major oil companies, after negotiating on a natural gas pipeline construction project with former Gov. Frank Murkowski, indicated they wanted stability in oil taxes before they would move forward with the gas pipeline. A revision in oil taxes was a major issue for lawmakers in 2006.

Kott, a seven-term Republican lawmaker from Eagle River on Anchorage's north side, was convicted in September 2007 of accepting nearly $9,000, a $2,750 political poll and the promise of a job from Allen. The formal charges were conspiracy to solicit financial benefits, extortion and bribery.

Kohring, a seven-term Republican from Wasilla, the hometown of Gov. Sarah Palin, was convicted of taking at least $2,600 in cash that Allen testified he handed over because Kohring was perpetually short of money for food and lodging.

In FBI recordings played at their trials, Kott and Kohring were heard discussing legislative strategy with Allen and a VECO vice president, Rick Smith. Both executives pleaded guilty to bribing lawmakers in early 2007.

However, the same team of federal prosecutors involved in the convictions of Kott and Kohring handled the case of former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, who was convicted of failing to report more than a quarter-million dollars in gifts from Allen, mostly in the form of an extensive home remodeling.

That conviction was thrown out and the case dropped, after the presiding judge determined that prosecutors had withheld key information that could have helped in Stevens' defense.

The new U.S. attorney general, Eric Holder, ordered a review of the Alaska cases and asked that Kott and Kohring be released until the investigation was completed.

The former lawmakers were returned to Alaska last week.

At the hearing Wednesday, Sedwick ordered the men released under the same conditions in place before they were convicted. He also lightened travel restrictions: Instead of needing permission to travel out of state, Kott and Kohring will merely have to file itineraries with the federal probation office.

An attorney for Kott, Sheryl Lynn McCloud, who participated by phone, said prosecutors already had provided her with three sets of documents.

Kott's trial attorney, Jim Wendt of Anchorage, said Kott's personal resources have been drained and Kott received permission to apply for a federal defender. Wendt also was given formal permission to withdraw from the case in favor of McCloud, a Seattle attorney.

Kott said after the hearing he had no immediate plans other than to relax for a few days and perhaps go fishing and enjoy the Alaska outdoors.

"It's been a tough year and a half," he said.

A commercial flooring contractor, Kott said he turned his business over to his son as he served time in a federal penitentiary.

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