Weyhrauch seeks to have trial separated from Kott

Posted: Monday, August 20, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Former Republican Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch of Juneau wants his upcoming trial on corruption charges severed from former fellow Republican lawmaker Rep. Pete Kott.

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The former lawmakers are scheduled to go to trial Sept. 5 in federal court in Anchorage.

Weyhrauch's lawyers have filed motions and supporting documents to have their client tried separately. It is hard to know why. Lawyers involved in the case say they can't talk about the issues. The motion and supporting documents also were filed under seal, meaning they are out of public view.

"There's a lot going on behind the scenes and it involves evidence that we can't discuss before the trial," said Doug Pope, one of Weyhrauch's attorneys.

U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick has yet to rule on several sealed motions.

Generally, one reason a defendant tries to split off his case is so he won't be tainted by his co-defendant, said Rex Butler, a criminal defense attorney not connected with the case.

"First of all, one person might be really knee deep in the trouble while the other person is a surface player," Butler said. "The problem is, in a joint trial, if a juror takes one down, they almost always will take both people down."

The corruption case involves accusations that officials with oil field services contractor VECO Corp. bribed the legislators to help push an oil-production tax favored by the industry through the Legislature in 2006.

VECO's former chief executive, Bill Allen, and vice president, Rick Smith, have pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy involving four legislators: Kott, Weyhrauch, indicted former Wasilla Rep. Vic Kohring and former Senate President Ben Stevens, who was described but not named in court documents. Kohring has an October trial date. Stevens hasn't been charged.

Allen and Smith, who resigned from VECO, are expected to be key government witnesses at the trial.

It appears from the indictment that the FBI used electronic surveillance of VECO's suite in a Juneau hotel to collect evidence.

Kott is accused of taking payoffs totaling $8,993 and the promise of a job from VECO in exchange for doing the company's bidding. Weyhrauch is accused of soliciting legal work from VECO.

Jim Wendt, who represents Kott, said he probably won't oppose the motion to sever the cases, but he won't join in, either.

"You'll have to wait and see, but our defense is basically that our guy is not guilty," Wendt said.

Pope said that his client is innocent and never sold his votes.

Kott is a former House Speaker from Eagle River first elected in 1992 and defeated in the 2006 Republican primary. He now lives in Juneau. Weyhrauch is a Juneau attorney who served two terms and didn't run again in 2006.

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