Former state Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, supported an oil tax bill because he believes in responsible development of the state resource - not because of any bribes, according to defense attorney Douglas Pope.
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Weyhrauch's trial on charges of bribery and extortion is set to begin Wednesday in Anchorage with jury selection.
In pre-trial court filings, Anchorage attorney Pope has outlined a defense strategy that he said will show Weyhrauch "had a long-standing commitment to sensible development of Alaska's resources" and "was committed to development of a gas pipeline on public policy grounds."
Weyhrauch would have supported the gas pipeline backed by former Gov. Frank Murkowski whether or not it was supported by VECO Corp., Pope said.
VECO CEO Bill Allen and another executive have pleaded guilty to bribing several state legislators to support an oil tax rate favored by oil producers.
Federal indictments against three former Alaska legislators now awaiting trial accuse them of selling their offices, mostly for cash bribes.
For example, Weyhrauch's co-defendant, former House Speaker Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, is accused in his indictment of taking money from VECO executives laundered through phony invoices.
Other federal court filings say he also accepted $12,000 worth of hardwood flooring equipment from VECO. Kott now operates his flooring business in Juneau.
Court documents said Allen allowed Kott to use a VECO warehouse for free from 1999 to 2006.
Kott also was reported to have Allen pay for a relative's $1,000 entry fee into a Florida beauty pageant, along with other payments.
Federal prosecutors were unavailable Thursday and Friday, and did not say why no charges had been brought in connection with those payments.
Other actions prosecutors called bribes were the basis of charges, including Kott's allegedly having accepted $8,993 in cash, and $2,750 in polling expenses.
The charges against Weyhrauch are much different. He is accused of approaching VECO's Allen during the oil tax negotiations last year and seeking future legal work. Weyhrauch is an attorney and has practiced law in Juneau for many years.
A federal judged noted in pre-trial filings that the accusations against Weyhrauch paint a different picture than those against Kott, and may work to set him apart from his co-defendant.
For example, Weyhrauch was never given a "CBC" hat, which prosecutors said stood for "Corrupt Bastards' Club."
Prosecutors allege that Weyhrauch's solicitation of legal work from VECO meant he had an undisclosed financial conflict of interest.
That gave rise to the charge of "honest services fraud" against Weyhrauch, one of seven counts in the case, along with bribery and extortion.
"The public of the State of Alaska is entitled not just to the right decisions by its elected officials, but also a free and uncorrupted process by which those public officials take official actions," prosecutors said.
"When a public official fails to disclose the existence of a conflict of interest - whether required by law to do so, or whether required by fiduciary duty to do so - the public official can be found guilty of honest services fraud," prosecutors said.
That holds true whether or not the official takes any action thereafter, whether fraudulent or harmful.
Pope said the prosecutors' version of what happened would be "hotly disputed."
The indictments include excerpts from wiretaps and other recordings, but Pope said the defense will challenge whether they mean what prosecutors say they mean.
In one case, in a meeting with Allen, prosecutors said Weyhrauch told Allen that he would follow Kott and cast his vote alongside Kott's vote.
Many of the recordings expected to be played at trial are edited from longer source material, and those edits may be in dispute.
"Mr. Weyhrauch believes them to be misleading and incomplete," Pope said.
In fact, he said, none of the excerpts will show any criminal conduct on Weyhrauch's part.
Further, Pope said he expected Allen and former VECO Vice-president Rick Smith to testify against Weyhrauch at trial.
Pope said it may be that Allen agreed to plead guilty to save VECO Corp. from being charged criminally as well. That could have been fatal to the billion-dollar company, of which Allen was the majority owner.
The executives "entered into plea agreements with the government calling into significant question their motive and bias to provide helpful, even if fabricated or exaggerated, testimony to assist the government in their pursuit of Mr. Weyhrauch and others," Pope said.
Weyhrauch was adamant he'd done nothing wrong, he said.
"Suffice it to say that Mr. Weyhrauch believes the evidence will conclusively demonstrate that he did not commit any criminal acts as an individual or as a sitting Alaska state legislator."
Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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