ANCHORAGE - Government informer Frank Prewitt had plenty of chances to call off a scheme to funnel payments to former state Rep. Tom Anderson but did not, Anderson's attorney contended in federal court Monday.
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In a second day of questioning of the prosecution's star witness in the corruption case against Anderson, defense attorney Paul Stockler hammered away at conversations secretly recorded by Prewitt and his motives for doing so. Prewitt is a former Corrections Department commissioner and a consultant for a private prison company, Cornell Industries Inc.
At least 10 times, Stockler said, Anderson or the man he's accused of conspiring with, Bill Bobrick, posed questions to Prewitt as to his comfort level with their plan to have Cornell spend money on their proposed Web-based public affairs newsletter.
Prewitt, cooperating with an FBI investigation, acknowledged he did not halt their plan.
"My role was not to advise them as to what was and wasn't illegal ... My role was to have conversations and see where they went," Prewitt said.
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.
He's accused of conspiring with Bobrick, a former municipal lobbyist in Anchorage, to solicit and obtain money for Anderson's influence as a lawmaker. According to prosecutors, the newsletter company was a front for Cornell to pay Anderson money that could not be traced directly to Cornell.
Prewitt testified that Cornell, whose entire business in Alaska comes through government contracts, had no use for advertising in a newsletter or sponsoring it.
Bobrick in May pleaded guilty to bribing Anderson. Following testimony by Prewitt and former Corrections Commissioner Marc Antrim, Bobrick took the stand for the last half hour of proceedings Monday.
Stockler contends Prewitt cooperated with investigators because Prewitt himself also was being investigated, and that Prewitt steered recorded conversations with Anderson to payoffs.
In his cross examination of Prewitt, Stockler's questions followed several themes:
Prewitt never gave his opinion that Cornell's payments would be illegal or directly tied Anderson's help to them.
Even before the alleged conspiracy, Anderson supported Cornell's interests.
Anderson's interest in shielding his link to Cornell was connected to his re-election and not offending corrections constituents whose jobs could be threatened if Cornell's private prisons were built.
Stockler also closely questioned Prewitt on his instructions for recording conversations from the FBI, and whether he was instructed to lie. Prewitt acknowledged one lie - his promise to run the newsletter and payment scheme "up the flagpole" to the principles at Cornell. He never did.
"So that was a lie?" Stockler asked.
"I guess that would be true," Prewitt said.
But Prewitt kept his composure as he methodically responded to Stockler's other questions.
He acknowledged that other lawmakers, including Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, had intervened for Cornell, even fielding "talking points" composed by Prewitt for making Cornell's case. The difference was, Hawker did not receive payments, Prewitt said.
In some instances, Bobrick's concern that Prewitt might consider the arrangement over whether Prewitt considered the scheme a "bad idea" or "sleazy" was because Bobrick was afraid it would jeopardize his own $5,000 per month annual contract with Cornell, Prewitt said. In another, Bobrick expressed concern that Prewitt would experience "sticker shock" over the amount of money requested - three payments of $8,000.
Under a questioning by Nicholas A. Marsh, a trial attorney in the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, Prewitt said that acknowledging the illegality of the payments to Anderson or Bobrick would have defeated the purpose of the investigation.
"That would have had an immediate chilling effect on the inquiry," Prewitt said.
He denied that he was ever told by the FBI that he had to "bag a state legislator."
Marsh asked whether Anderson had "many times" acknowledged that Cornell had no interest in the newsletter and knew it was a sham.
"No question about it, the purpose of this arrangement was not the Web site?" Marsh asked.
"No question," Prewitt replied.
In the half hour he was on the stand, under questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph W. Bottini, Bobrick had time only to lay out his background as a construction worker, union official, director of the Democratic party and legislative aide.
Bobrick said he befriended Anderson in 2001 when Anderson was a member of the Anchorage School Board and they eventually discussed going into business. Anderson, a moderate Republican, would lobby in Juneau and Bobrick, then a Democrat, in Anchorage.
Anderson approached him in early 2004 and told him he needed money. He asked Bobrick if he could find him contract work.
"He was my friend and I wanted to help him out," Bobrick said.
He is scheduled to continue testifying Tuesday.
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