Jurors hear recordings in Kohring bribe case

CEO makes a reference to handing over cash to lawmaker on tape

Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Jurors in the corruption trial of former Alaska state Rep. Vic Kohring on Wednesday heard their first reference to money passing to the veteran lawmaker.

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In a secret video recording made March 4, 2006, in a Juneau hotel room rented by VECO Corp., an oil field services company, CEO Bill Allen makes a passing reference to handing cash to Kohring.

"I gave him a thousand," Allen tells company Vice President Rick Smith.

Allen and Smith pleaded guilty in May to bribing Alaska lawmakers and are cooperating with federal prosecutors.

During the trial last month of former state Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, Allen testified he made illegal payments to Kohring, Kott and former state Senate President Ben Stevens, the son of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. Allen also testified he sent VECO employees to work on the renovation of the elder Stevens' home in Girdwood.

Ted Stevens has said he paid every bill he received and has denied any wrongdoing. Neither Ted Stevens nor Ben Stevens have been charged.

The comment by Allen played Wednesday was part of an animated discussion in which the two executives state the urgency of the Alaska Legislature passing a revised oil tax. That legislation was a focus of the 2006 legislative session and was considered a gateway bill that would lead to construction of a natural gas pipeline stretching from Alaska's North Slope to customers in the Midwest.

Smith says on the recording that they may have to "get dirty" to make sure the bill passed. In profanity-laced remarks, Allen says, "We have to produce" and, "Our clients have to know what we're doing."

VECO's business included building, repairing and maintaining facilities for Alaska's three major oil companies, ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips, the companies with whom former Gov. Frank Murkowski was negotiating for construction of a natural gas pipeline.

VECO's actions to see the legislation passed are at the heart of the government's trial against three former lawmakers, including Kohring.

Kohring, a seven-term state representative from Wasilla, is accused of demanding and accepting at least $2,600 from the VECO officials in exchange for his support on pipeline legislation.

Prosecutors also contend he solicited a job from VECO for his nephew and that he sought $17,000 to pay off a credit card bill.

Kohring denies the charges. His attorney, John Henry Browne, said Kohring accepted money as a gift from Allen, a close friend, but that Kohring's conduct in office was not affected. Kohring, in fact, voted against the legislation sought by VECO because it contained a tax increase, Browne said Tuesday in his opening statement.

VECO would have been in line to bid on hundreds of millions in contracts if the a natural gas pipeline was built or if revised oil tax legislation led to new investment by major petroleum companies.

Jurors must decide if Kohring received a payoff from company officials or was merely working closely with them for a project they believed would be good for the economy of the entire state.

Prosecutors Wednesday presented a steady stream of FBI agents and employees testifying how they monitored calls Kohring made to Smith between January and April 2006.

The half-dozen or so calls played Wednesday - all initiated by Kohring to Smith - revealed him thanking the VECO executives for their support.

Kohring repeatedly restated his well-known anti-tax and pro-development stand and how he could not support a higher oil tax. But he also pledged to assist in pushing for Murkowski's oil tax revision, as desired by VECO, as a condition for major petroleum companies to get on board with a natural gas pipeline.

Kohring also said he was willing to lobby for VECO's cause and provide company officials with useful information.



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