Pete Kott apologizes for language, but proclaims innocence

Posted: Friday, September 21, 2007

ANCHORAGE - A former state legislator on Thursday apologized to jurors for foul language the FBI secretly caught him spouting in wiretaps and a hidden camera while investigating him on corruption charges.

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Former state Rep. Pete Kott, a seven-term Republican who represented Eagle River on Anchorage's north side, said going to trial has cost him relationships with people and probably his legacy. It has been a tremendous embarrassment to him and his family, he said.

However, "I believe I had to go through this," he said. "I don't believe the charges are correct, that I'm not guilty, but I had to go through this no matter what."

Kott is charged with conspiracy to solicit financial benefits for his service as a legislator, extortion "under color of official right" and bribery. A fourth charge, wire fraud, is based on a phone call he made from Washington, D.C., while on legislative business. In the phone call, he sought the phone number of a lobbyist and ended up speaking about official business that prosecutors contend was part of a conspiracy.

Kott stands accused of accepting nearly $9,000, a political poll and the promise of a future job from officials of VECO Corp., a major oil field services company.

Former VECO chairman Bill Allen and Rick Smith, a vice president for legislative affairs, have pleaded guilty to bribing Kott and other lawmakers. They testified last week that they used Kott to push a revised crude oil tax with terms favorable to clients in the petroleum industry.

The measure was considered a law that could lead producers to begin negotiating for construction of a natural gas pipeline tapping Alaska's vast North Slope reserves. That project carries a price tag in the tens of billions of dollars. VECO would have been in position to bid on the pipeline or other oil field work.

Prosecutors could get their chance to question Kott as early as Thursday afternoon.

Defense attorney James Wendt acknowledges that Kott worked with VECO officials as documented in the secret recordings made by the FBI. However, he says it was not against the law for a lawmaker to work with company officials on legislation desired by most Alaskans.

In painstaking detail starting Wednesday afternoon and continuing into Thursday morning, Wendt led Kott through the history of the crude oil tax bill, seeking to establish that Kott was not acting in lockstep with VECO officials.

VECO officials backed a version of the bill calling for a 20 percent tax rate. Kott, reviewing the official House record of votes during the regular legislative session and two special sessions, noted that he had never had the opportunity to vote on that rate.

Kott initially backed the 20 percent level, he said, but compromised as it became apparent that some of his colleagues and the state Senate would hold out for a higher rate.

"We were just looking for a way to bring closure to the issue," he said.

At one point late in the regular session in May 2006, Kott himself offered an amendment that would have set the tax rate at 21.5 percent. Kott also voted for the final version of the measure in the second special session that ended in July 2006 and carried a rate of 22.5 percent.

Kott's polite testimony was in contrast to the vulgarities displayed in the recordings, and Kott addressed that directly to jurors.

"I apologize for the videos that have been presented during the course of this trial," he said.

His 22-year Air Force career and 14 years in the Legislature, including two as House speaker, likely will be overshadowed by the trial, he said.

"I think people will forget about the good things and remember the bad things," Kott said.

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