Kott's phone bill raises concerns

Sitka man accuses former lawmaker of tapping calls

Posted: Sunday, September 30, 2007

While FBI tapes of former Rep. Pete Kott's phone conversations were a major factor in his conviction on corruption charges earlier this week, it wasn't Kott's first involvement with the issue of phone tapping.

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A Sitka man is accusing Kott of inappropriately recording calls between the man and his daughter, and using the tapes in a bitter custody dispute involving visitation rights.

Rand Bigelow of Sitka, a former Juneau resident, said those tapes were devastating to his attempts to maintain contact with his now-14-year-old daughter. Bigelow was married in the 1990s to Debora Stovern of Juneau, Kott's girlfriend for a number of years.

Bigelow said those tapes caused a state official appointed by the Office of Public Advocacy to recommend he not be allowed to see his daughter.

In the last session he was in office, Kott sponsored legislation making it legal for parents to tape their children's phone calls. The legislation also established rules for when evidence obtained in such a manner could be admitted in child-custody proceedings. The bill was the only one he succeeded in passing in the 2005-06 Legislature.

Kott, a Republican who formerly represented Eagle River, was found guilty on Tuesday of conspiracy to solicit financial benefits, extortion and bribery. He was acquitted on wire fraud.

Bigelow acknowledged the tapes involved in his custody case sounded bad.

"I've worked construction all my life and I cuss like a sailor. I said some things I shouldn't have said," Bigelow said.

He said any state official confronted with the tapes should have turned them over to law enforcement authorities for an investigation of illegal tapping.

Instead, they were used in court against him.

The state official's supervisor, attorney Janine Reep of the Department of Law, who supervises the state's Advocates for Children in Court Cases, did not return calls.

Based on the state recommendation and those tapes, Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks denied Bigelow visitation with his daughter.

Weeks has since retired. He did not return messages left at his Douglas home.

Kott served in the Legislature from 1992 until he was defeated for re-election in 2006, frequently campaigning as a fiscally conservative, family-values Republican.

He had once been a power in the House of Representatives, even serving as its speaker during the 2003-04 Legislature.

While Kott's wife remained in Eagle River, his official residence, he was actually living in Juneau for a number of years with his girlfriend, Stovern.

Bigelow said Kott inappropriately taped as many as 14 hours of calls between Bigelow and his daughter. Bigelow and Stovern were disputing custody.

The tapes Stovern used in court began with Kott announcing when each one was being made, Bigelow said.

"I've got tapes with Pete Kott's voice on them," he said.

Neither Kott nor Stovern responded to separate interview requests relayed through Kott's criminal lawyer.

State Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau said she knows Kott, along with Stovern, Bigelow and their daughter.

What she said she didn't know when she voted for Kott's parental phone recording bill was Kott's alleged personal involvement in the issue.

"I wish I'd known what else was going on," Kerttula said.

Despite Kott's involvement, the bill does still appear to have merit, she said.

Bigelow said the Office of Public Advocacy and the judge weren't persuaded by his allegations of heavy alcohol use in the Kott-Stovern household.

Since then, Kott's federal court trial has documented extensive alcohol use by Kott in drunken, profane conversations with fellow conspirators. In addition, a former Kott legislative staffer testified she was so concerned about his drinking she'd considered an intervention.

Bigelow said he put his faith in the Office of Public Advocacy to look out for his daughter's interests, but said he made a mistake showing up in court without an attorney, while Stovern had one.

"A guy who shows up in court without a lawyer is a complete idiot," he said.

Bigelow said he has a lawyer now, and is continuing to seek visitation with his daughter.

• Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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