"You dun got the wrong man."
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That was the folksy conclusion Vic Kohring's attorney presented to federal prosecutors last January in an otherwise very serious letter turning down a plea deal for the former Alaska state lawmaker.
The letter, obtained by The Associated Press, was sent to Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Bottini, by Kohring's lawyer, Wayne Anthony Ross, who claimed Kohring did not do anything wrong.
Federal prosecutors four months later charged Kohring, then a state representative, and two former lawmakers on bribery and extortion charges.
Kohring is accused of demanding and accepting up to $2,600 in cash and a $3,000 job for a relative from former VECO Corp. executives in exchange for his support. The indictment also alleges Kohring sought but did not receive a $17,000 payment for credit card debt.
Prosecutors claim Kohring's cozy relationship with VECO executives Bill Allen and Rick Smith went back to 2002. Ross claimed in the letter this is nothing more than a decade-old friendship, not a pay-for-play relationship.
Kohring's trial starts Monday in Anchorage.
Kohring declined Tuesday to talk about specifics of the case, but did say, "This is becoming more and more of a reality, now that it's here. Of course, I'm fighting for my life here."
Charged along with Kohring were former Republican Reps. Pete Kott, who was convicted on three counts last month, and Bruce Weyhrauch, whose trial has been postponed.
Since the May indictments, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and U.S. Rep. Don Young have also come under federal scrutiny for their relationship with VECO executives.
Seattle-based John Henry Browne, another attorney for Kohring, told the AP on Tuesday that Kohring got ensnared in a wider federal probe that was after bigger trophies, Stevens and his son, Ben Stevens, a former state Senate president.
"What happened was this little fish named Vic Kohring got caught in it. There's not much meat in this hamburger," Browne said.
Ted Stevens is under investigation for remodeling work done by VECO employees at his Alaska home. Ben Stevens had his office searched in an FBI raid last year, but he hasn't been charged. Bill Allen testified in Kott's trial last month that his bribery conviction included allegations of payments to Ben Stevens through a consulting contract. Ben Stevens has denied any wrongdoing. Stevens has said he won't discuss the investigation for fear it will look like he's trying to influence it.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice, which is prosecuting the case, declined comment Tuesday.
Ross' five-page letter will essentially serve as an outline for the defense, his lawyers said.
Ross notes in the letter that Kohring went against VECO's wishes and never endorsed the final petroleum profits tax passed by the Legislature last year. The tax, which Gov. Sarah Palin has called tainted by the corruption investigation, will be revisited during a special session that starts Thursday.
"We respectfully decline your offer to have Vic Kohring plead to a criminal charge," Ross wrote Bottini in January. "Vic did not sell his vote(s) to anyone. ... We strongly disagree with your assertion that what Vic did was criminal in nature."
He conceded, however, that Kohring now understands he foolishly placed himself in a position where he and his actions could be subjected to scrutiny and misinterpretation.
In the letter, Ross also countered the importance of several videotapes and recordings Bottini played to them in an earlier meeting.
In one, Kohring visited Smith and Allen at the Baranof Hotel in Juneau, seeking their advice on how he could deal with a past due credit card debt. "Vic was interested in a loan or a legitimate job and these things were discussed," Ross wrote.
But he said Kohring several times emphasized "that everything had to be legitimate and on the up and up. Allen and Smith listened but seemed unenthusiastic about helping, so Vic dropped the matter and did not bring it up to them again."
Ross also noted recorded phone conversations, which he said showed Kohring's typical behavior.
"Vic often asks constituents, 'What can I do to help,"' he wrote. "He says those same words to anyone or everyone.
"There were never any agreements expressed or implied between Vic and Allen for Vic's vote."
He also discounted the allegation that Kohring arranged a job for a relative. He said Smith broached the subject of Kohring's nephew applying for a VECO engineering internship over small talk during a chance meeting at a hotel lounge.
"Smith's offer was unexpected. Vic was not even aware such a program existed," Ross wrote. "Smith asked for nothing from Vic when he made the offer and nothing later."
Ross told Bottini that Kohring was supportive of efforts to clean up politics in Alaska. "However in this instance, as they say in the movies, 'You dun got the wrong man,'" he wrote.