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ANCHORAGE - Tom Anderson was either a debt-ridden politician willing to sell his influence or the victim of a corrupt former state bureaucrat trying to avoid his own prosecution by handing over a sitting legislator to overeager federal investigators.
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The contrasting scenarios were laid out Wednesday during opening statements in the corruption trial of Anderson, an Anchorage Republican state representative who left office in January.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph W. Bottini said Anderson, starting in 2004, was named to influential legislative committees and exerted pressure on state officials for bribes that totaled $12,828 dollars.
"He knew that what he was doing at that time was wrong," Bottini said.
Defense attorney Paul Stockler said Anderson did nothing more than push issues he always backed. If he were corrupt, Stockler said, Anderson would have taken cash payments offered to him, not checks that left a paper trail.
He suggested that a star
government witness, former Department of Corrections Commissioner Frank Prewitt, steered investigators to Anderson to avoid his own corruption arrest. And Stockler suggested prosecutors would present select portions of recordings, perhaps even spliced tapes or inaccurate transcripts.
"If you keep an open mind, the end of this trial, you will find Tom Anderson not guilty," Stockler said.
On Dec. 7, while still holding office, Anderson was charged with single counts of conspiracy and bribery, three counts of money laundering and two counts of interfering with commerce, a charge connected to a demand for payments.
He is accused of taking money he thought was coming from a consultant for a private prison company in exchange for using his influence to push the company's agenda. Instead, he was dealing with a federal informant and receiving money supplied by the FBI, according to the government case.
Bottini acknowledged that two key witnesses, Prewitt and consultant Bill Bobrick, were not "squeaky-clean."
Both were connected to Cornell Industries Inc., a firm based in Houston, Texas, that develops and runs private prisons. After leaving the Corrections Department, Prewitt became Cornell's "boots-on-the-ground guy," Bottini said. Bobrick, who over 20 years developed expertise as a municipal lobbyist in Anchorage, held a lobbying contract with Cornell and was a friend of Anderson, Bottini said.
The company had three areas of interest in Alaska: a push for a private prison, which it hoped to run; favorable regulations for its system of halfway houses; and a proposed juvenile psychiatric residential treatment center, for which it sought a certificate of need.
Prewitt has been investigated for trying to improperly influence a Department of Corrections official; for "conduit contributions," or giving money to others to pass on to candidates, which circumvents campaign contribution
limits; and as corrections commissioner, for accepting $30,000 from a friend who had a professional relationship the department, Bottini said.
Confronted with the investigations, Prewitt became a government informant, Bottini said.
Bobrick also was involved in a conduit contribution scheme, Bottini said, and last month pleaded guilty to bribing Anderson in the current case. He is to be sentenced after Anderson's trial.
If the Anderson case rested just on testimony from those two, Bottini said, prosecutors would not have brought the case to court. Instead, he told jurors, Anderson's actions caught by hidden microphones and cameras would make the case.
"We're going to prove it to you primarily on the basis of the words and actions of Tom Anderson," Bottini said.
The government contends that Anderson was deeply in debt, needed work and that Bobrick approached Prewitt with a scheme to get money to the legislator. Under the plan, Bobrick would set up a publishing project to provide "political cover" to Anderson, take in money from Cornell and pass it on to Anderson, who would write and assemble newsletter articles.
Anderson suggested what his own payment should be, Bottini said. Testimony and tapes will show Anderson's intent was to avoid state reporting requirements and that Cornell would receive nothing for its money from the newsletter, only the promise that Anderson would "be our boy in Juneau." Just one article was ever electronically posted.
Anderson worked to disguise the true source of his income in violation of the law, Bottini said, both from the public and his future wife, state Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, then a state representative.
Prewitt, using money provided by the FBI, made three $8,000 payments to the dummy corporation, which Bobrick and Anderson split. Prewitt also made a $2,000 direct payment to Anderson after the lawmaker expressed displeasure with the share Bobrick took, Bottini said.
Stockler, Anderson's attorney, indicated Prewitt tried to ensnare Anderson to avoid his own legal problems.
Anderson looked at Prewitt as a friend and mentor and was eager to help him without a promise of money.
"He was eager to please," Stockler said, as he did for many of his constituents in the four years he held office.
It was Prewitt, he said, who constantly steered recorded conversations to money.
"He stays true blue to what he always did in the Legislature," Stockler said of Anderson.
Stockler also took investigators to task. Prosecutors had no plans, he said, to play a tape of the first meeting between Anderson, Prewitt and Bobrick in which Anderson expressed his willingness to help the men he trusted for no promise of payment.
"They will take things out of context trying to make Tom Anderson look guilty," he said.
He suggested jurors listen to tapes closely.
"I think you're to find the tapes have been spliced and the transcripts they show you are not completely accurate," Stockler said.
Stockler affirmed that Anderson was short of money but said it was repugnant to suggest that he would break the law just because he was in debt. He also asked jurors to overlook language and conversation they might find offensive.
"He did say some stupid things," Stockler said. "Hopefully, you'll forgive him. But he never violated the trust Alaskans put in him."
Eight women and four men were picked for the jury, backed by three female and one male alternates.
Judge John W. Sedwick said that with the time it too to pick jurors and the Fourth of July holiday, the trial, originally scheduled for two weeks, could reach past July 9.