Attorneys spar in opening of former lawmaker's trial

Defense questions motive of witness

Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2007

ANCHORAGE - The attorney for a former Alaska legislator on trial for corruption charges used his opening statement to attack a key government witness, questioning his motive for aiding the government's case.

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Defense attorney John Henry Browne said Bill Allen, the former head of a major oil field services company and a longtime behind-the-scenes political operative, had multiple personal and financial motives for helping federal prosecutors convict his client, former state Rep. Vic Kohring.

In recordings that will be played during the trial, Browne said, Allen will be heard bragging that, "I own so and so's ass," Browne said - everyone from Alaska legislators to the state's most powerful politicians, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and Congressman Don Young - because of his financial assistance to them or their political campaigns.

In fact, Allen is owned by the government, Brown said. He cut a deal with federal prosecutors that spared Allen's children from prosecution, spared his company from prosecution, and may spare Allen a lengthy jail sentence, the lawyer said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Bottini said the case is about how Kohring, elected seven times from Wasilla, a city of 6,800 about an hour's drive north of downtown Anchorage, used his position to receive cash.

"This case is about the misuse of a position of public trust for personal gain," Bottini said.

Kohring took cash payments from Allen, CEO of VECO Corp., and was "ready, willing and able to help the people who were paying him," Bottini said.

Wiretaps and secret video recordings made by the FBI during the 2006 legislative session will show that, Bottini said.

Allen and Rick Smith, a VECO vice president, will testify they badly wanted the Alaska Legislature in 2006 to approve new oil tax legislation, known as the Petroleum Production Tax, or PPT. The measure, promoted as a way to provide a stable tax climate in Alaska, was sought by major petroleum producers before they would consider building a multibillion dollar natural gas pipeline tapping vast reserves on the state's North Slope. VECO would have been in line to bid on lucrative construction and maintenance contracts if that project had been built.

"You're going to hear that they pushed a little too hard, that they went over the line," Bottini said.

Allen and Smith pleaded guilty in May to bribery.

Kohring is accused of demanding and accepting at least $2,600 and a $3,000 job for a nephew from Allen or Smith in exchange for his support on pipeline legislation. Prosecutors also contend Kohring solicited $17,000 to pay off a credit card bill.

In return for cash payments, according to the prosecution case, Kohring did Allen's bidding. Prosecutors say Kohring at Allen's request released a a bill that had been stalled in a committee he chaired. Prosecutors say Kohring fired aide Eric Musser because Musser filed an ethics complaint against an Allen favorite, former state Rep. Bev Masek, R-Willow.

Prosecutors say Kohring voted for and lobbied other legislators to support a version of the oil tax bill desired by the VECO officials. They also say he repeatedly offered to assist Allen and Smith on the natural gas pipeline legislation.

Browne told jurors the government's case against Kohring lacks a crucial element at the heart of the alleged conspiracy. Kohring never voted for the oil tax legislation VECO sought, Browne said.

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