ANCHORAGE - Jurors in the trial of former state Rep. Tom Anderson got an insider's view on Thursday of how business is done on the fringes of the Alaska Legislature.
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Corrections commissioner-turned-consultant Frank Prewitt testified that he listened to a pitch from Bill Bobrick, a municipal lobbyist, soliciting Prewitt's consulting client, Cornell Industries, Inc., for money that could be passed to Anderson without public disclosure.
"Tom can be very helpful," Bobrick said in a secretly recorded phone call. "I'm going to work really hard to make sure he's re-elected. He's a rising star."
Federal prosecutors say Anderson, starting in 2004, conspired with Bobrick to obtain bribes in exchange for his influence. Anderson ended up collecting $12,828 of the $26,000 Prewitt paid using money provided by the FBI, according to prosecutors.
Anderson was arrested Dec. 7 and 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.
Defense attorney Paul Stockler contends Prewitt, under investigation himself, steered investigators toward a legislator who was simply eager to help his friends on issues. In his opening statement Wednesday, Stockler suggested that the government will present a skewed portrait of Anderson based on hours of secret recordings by the FBI.
Stockler had no opportunity Thursday to cross-examine Prewitt, who was scheduled to return to the stand Friday.
Prewitt was hired as deputy commissioner of the Corrections Department in 1987 under former Gov. Steve Cowper.
Under questioning from Nicholas A. Marsh, a trial attorney in the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, Prewitt testified that he eventually went to work for Allvest, a contractor providing halfway house services. When Cornell bought Allvest, Prewitt stayed on through a consulting contract from 1998 to 2005.
In his opening statement Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Bottini said Prewitt had been investigated for trying to influence a Department of Corrections official, for improperly distributing campaign contributions, and as commissioner, for accepting $30,000 from a friend who had a professional relationship the department.
Prewitt on Thursday, without explaining why, said he agreed in April 2004 to help in FBI investigations of Alaska lawmakers.
Two months later, he heard through a third party that Bill Bobrick, a municipal lobbyist for Cornell, wanted to discuss steering Cornell money to Anderson. Prewitt's FBI contact, Mary Beth Kepner, ordered him to follow up.
What transpired in the half-dozen recorded conversations played Thursday for the jury was a pitch for Cornell to "kick loose" money for a statewide public affairs electronic newsletter produced by Bobrick and Anderson.
Cornell, whose entire business in Alaska comes through government contracts, had no use for advertising in such a publication or subscribing to it, Prewitt said.
He clearly understood, he said, that the company's eight months of $3,000 checks would buy what Bobrick promised Anderson could deliver: budget protection for the company's halfway house contracts and assistance in obtaining contracts for a juvenile psychiatric treatment facility in Anchorage and a private adult prison in Whittier.
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