VECO official helped organize Young fundraiser

Posted: Tuesday, September 18, 2007

ANCHORAGE - The names of prominent national politicians continued to pop up Monday in the corruption trial of former state Rep. Pete Kott.

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A former oil field services company official convicted of bribing Alaska state legislators testified Monday he was instrumental in organizing an annual pig roast fundraiser that brought in thousands of campaign dollars to U.S. Rep. Don Young.

Rick Smith, the vice president of governmental affairs for VECO Corp. until he resigned in May, mentioned no wrongdoing in regard to Young.

The pig roast was held annually at the home of former VECO Corp. Chairman Bill Allen. After Allen and Smith pleaded guilty in May to bribing Alaska lawmakers, this summer's fundraiser moved to the home of former Gov. Bill Sheffield, where it drew about 70 protesters.

Smith has pleaded guilty to bribing former state lawmakers including Kott, who represented Eagle River, an Anchorage bedroom community.

Allen testified during Kott's trial last week he had assigned one to four employees for up to six months to work on the home of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens. Allen also testified that his bribery conviction included allegations of payments to Stevens' son, former state Senate President Ben Stevens, R-Anchorage, through a consulting contract. Ben Stevens has not been charged.

Both Smith and Allen pleaded guilty to conspiracy and bribery and agreed to cooperate with federal investigators in the widespread corruption probe.

Like Allen, Smith acknowledged he made a number of calls after Aug. 31, 2006, that he knew would be recorded on the government's behalf.

"Wild guess, 20 to 40," Smith estimated of the number of calls he made.

He also wore a recording device for meeting with people five to 10 times at the government's behest, he said.

VECO is one of Alaska's largest oil field services companies, providing engineering, construction, operation and maintenance services to petroleum producers. During the 2006 Alaska legislative session, VECO officials including Allen and Smith spent days in Juneau pushing lawmakers, with Kott's assistance, to approve legislation that could lead major oil producers to approve a natural gas pipeline taking Alaska's North Slope natural gas to Midwest markets.

VECO would have been eligible to bid on contracts connected to the pipeline, estimated to cost $20 billion to $30 billion.

Smith testified last week he helped hatch a plan to funnel cash to Kott for his re-election bid. He said he and Kott agreed that Kott's hardwood flooring business should submit a $7,993 bill on top of another invoice for refinishing work done at Allens' home. That bill, eventually paid with a personal check by Allen, forms one of the legs of the case against Kott.

Kott's attorney, James Wendt, on Monday tried to draw distinctions between Kott and other lawmakers who had financial connections to VECO.

Smith acknowledged that Kott had never signed any sort of a contract for payments as had others VECO was accused of bribing, such as the younger Stevens.

Smith said he had arranged for a payment to be made to another state lawmaker, Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Anchorage, who was convicted July of conspiracy and bribery in a separate case. He has not been charged with taking illegal money from VECO.

Smith said he hired Anderson to perform legal work. Anderson held a law degree but has not passed the bar in Alaska.

"It was a sham contract, wasn't it?" Wendt asked.

"We never got any work out of it," Smith replied.

"I asked him to produce things for us. It didn't happen," Smith said.

As for Young's pig roast fundraiser, Smith said he had helped organize the yearly events for a decade.

"I came in the loop early on," Smith said.

The guest list usually had 200 to 400 names of people who were expected to contribute to Young's re-election campaigns, he said.

Smith said he hired one of Anchorage's upscale restaurants, Marx Brothers, to cater the annual summer affair. The bill from the restaurant for each event likely was $10,000 to $15,000, he said.

Wendt pressed Smith on his motivation for providing "substantial assistance" to the government in his cooperation agreement.

"I'm still looking at nine to 11 years," Smith said of his potential sentence.

Wasn't Smith hoping to see that reduced?

"That's my hope," Smith said.

The defense case is expected to begin Tuesday.

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