ANCHORAGE - The Justice Department inappropriately pressured a former state lawmaker to consider pleading guilty in a corruption case, according to his lawyer, who wants a federal judge to review the agency's actions.
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The claim is surfacing in a bribery investigation that has now stretched to Capitol Hill, where Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young, both from Alaska, are under scrutiny.
A lawyer for former state Rep. Vic Kohring said the FBI recently used another state lawmaker, who was cooperating with investigators, to press Kohring to take a plea deal.
Investigators normally are prohibited from contacting defendants once they have a lawyer.
Kohring has pleaded not guilty to bribery and extortion charges despite what defense lawyer John Henry Browne contended was persistent pressure from the Justice Department to change the plea.
That pressure culminated recently, Browne said, when Kohring's former aide received a call from an aide in state Sen. Fred Dyson's office. The message, Browne said, was to take a plea deal.
It was only last week that Browne learned Dyson had been working with investigators since 2006. Details about the cooperation emerged in a related trial and showed that Dyson helped prosecutors persuade oil contractor Bill Allen to cooperate in the overarching investigation.
Allen, the founder of the politically powerful oil services company VECO Corp., became a key witness against Kohring and other lawmakers and has provided investigators information about Stevens.
"Here we have somebody who's a lapdog for the government encouraging me and Vic not to exercise our right to trial," Browne said.
Bryan Sierra, a spokesman at the Justice Department's headquarters in Washington, which is prosecuting the case, declined comment.
Browne planned to raise the issue in court Monday during a pretrial hearing. If he persuades a judge that Dyson initiated the contact at the government's behest, it could sink the government's case against Kohring.
A telephone message left at Dyson's home was not immediately returned Sunday. When Kohring's lawyers questioned Dyson about his FBI contacts in an e-mail last month, Dyson denied making the overture at the government's prompting. But he again encouraged Kohring to consider a deal.
"My sense of the FBI investigations is that it is not a witch hunt and that they mostly want to nail the really bad guys," Dyson wrote in an e-mail to Kohring's lawyers, who provided the message to The Associated Press.
Dyson wrote that Kohring could "avoid a good deal of stress and bad press at trial by at least sitting down with the Feds" to consider "an attractive alternative."
Kohring is one of several Alaska lawmakers under indictment for their dealings with VECO.
Allen, a longtime friend and political supporter of Stevens, testified last week that his employees helped renovate the senator's home in 2000. Stevens has said he paid every bill he received.
VECO also helped organize fundraisers for Young, who has come under scrutiny in the investigation.