Prosecutors unseal revised indictment against Kohring

New information accuses ex-lawmaker of conspiring with executives in 2002

Posted: Sunday, October 07, 2007

ANCHORAGE - A former Alaska state representative fired an aide at the request of political power broker Bill Allen, according to a revised indictment unsealed by federal prosecutors.

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The new indictment against former state Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, added no new charges to the four corruption counts he faces. However, it charges that Kohring began conspiring as far back as 2002 with Allen and another official of VECO Corp., an oil field services firm and a major subcontractor for Alaska's petroleum companies.

A federal grand jury in May handed down indictments against Kohring, who was in office at the time, and two former Republican state representatives, Pete Kott of Eagle River and Bruce Weyhrauch of Juneau. Kott was convicted last week of three corruption counts. The trial of Weyhrauch, charged with bribery and conspiracy, is on hold while prosecutors appeal a ruling in the case.

Kohring's new indictment is expanded by three pages. Prosecutors say Kohring's conspiracy reached back to 2002 when he took illegal cash payments of $500 to $1,000 from Allen and a VECO vice president, Rick Smith.

Both Allen and Smith have pleaded guilty to bribing Kohring and other lawmakers. At Kott's trial, Allen testified that in 2000 he also sent one to four workers for up to six months to assist on the remodeling of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens' home in Girdwood. Allen's connection to Stevens is the subject of a grand jury investigation. The senator has said he paid all bills he received on the project.

The new indictment says Kohring fired aide Eric Musser at Allen's behest after Musser filed a complaint with the Alaska Public Offices Commission against a legislator Allen supported, Rep. Bev Masek, R-Willow.

The new indictment also says Kohring acted on Allen's behalf in 2003 by releasing an oil bill he had held up in a committee he chaired.

The new indictment calls $17,000 that Kohring allegedly sought from Allen to pay off a credit card debt a "payment" instead of a "loan."

Kohring's trial is set for Oct. 22. His arraignment on the new indictment is scheduled for Tuesday.

Kohring's attorney, John Browne of Seattle, could not be reached for comment Friday morning and his office said he would not be available until Oct. 10. Earlier this week, Browne filed notice to the court and government that he would be unavailable from Oct. 3 to Oct. 10.

The FBI in late 2005 wiretapped the phones of Allen and Smith and set up a secret camera and recording device in suite used by VECO in Juneau for meetings, Room 604 of the Baranof Hotel. Recordings were played extensively during Kott's trial.

The FBI case has focused on an oil tax bill that tied up the Legislature through the end of the 2006 regular legislative session and two special sessions. Allen sought the lowest possible tax rate he could get for petroleum producers, hoping it would lead to a stable tax climate that would motivate them to invest in a multibillion dollar natural gas pipeline project.

The new Kohring indictment goes beyond the 2006 wrangling over oil taxes. Starting in January 2002, the revised charges say, "Kohring received the first of several cash payments" from Allen "to influence and reward him" in his official capacity.

The new indictment claims Kohring delivered on his obligation to Allen in 2003, when Kohring was chairman of the House Special Committee on Oil & Gas. Kohring was holding up a Senate bill that lowered state royalties on older Cook Inlet wells and gave tax credits to some new North Slope exploration wells.

In April or May 2003, according to prosecutors, Allen asked Kohring to release the Senate bill so it could pass. Kohring not only complied, he signed on as a co-sponsor, according to the indictment.

The next year, Musser, the Kohring aide, brought APOC and legislative ethics charges against Rep. Masek, his previous employer.

Both agencies eventually sided with Musser. The public offices commission fined Masek $1,000 for spending campaign contributions on personal expenses. The House Ethics Committee ruled she improperly demanded personal loans from Musser "under threat of termination," including a loan of $99.25 to pay off her food bill at a lounge in the Capitol.

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