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ANCHORAGE - Jurors began deliberations Wednesday afternoon in the corruption trial of former state Rep. Vic Kohring.
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In closing arguments, federal prosecutors hammered away at Kohring as a manipulative sponge who used his elected office to nick bribes from wealthy executives of VECO Corp., an oil field services company.
"Mr. Kohring traded on his public office," said Assistant U.S Attorney Joe Bottini. "That's all he had. That was the only thing he had that these guys were interested in."
Bottini gave half of the government's closing argument in the corruption case against Kohring, a Republican state representative elected seven times from Wasilla, about an hour's ride north of Anchorage.
Kohring is accused of demanding and accepting at least $2,600 and a $3,000 job for a nephew in exchange for his support on an oil tax revision seen as gateway legislation for a multibillion dollar natural gas pipeline. Prosecutors also contend Kohring solicited $17,000 to pay off a credit card bill.
Defense attorney John Henry Browne told the jurors that the government simply had not proved its case.
VECO officials supported Kohring's election to office, Browne said, and Kohring backed legislation that the company supported. That's the way politics work and it's not illegal, Browne said.
"It's all right for a legislator to vote in favor of legislation that is supported by his or her supporters," Browne said. "That is all right. That's the way it goes."
As revealed by the government's secret camera in a hotel room rented by VECO, Browne said, Kohring took money from VECO CEO Bill Allen. It's clear from the audio portion that the money was linked to gifts, he said - a $100 bill Allen gave to Kohring to put in a plastic Easter egg for his daughter and additional cash handed over when Kohring mentioned he had sent money for the child's Girl Scout uniform.
"The government has not proved that Mr. Kohring knew that as a bribe," he said.
Jurors have only the word of Allen to prove that Kohring took other money, Browne said, and Allen had plenty to lose if he did not testify on the government's behalf. The government had threatened to prosecute his children, who owned substantial shares of his company, and the company itself.
In the government's electronic surveillance, which included wiretaps and secret cameras, Kohring was never recorded asking for money from Allen, Browne said. The weakness of the government's case was illustrated by the contentions they didn't prove, he said.
When the government tried to entrap Kohring with a hidden wire on informer Frank Prewitt, Kohring said nothing about firing an aide at Allen's request. Bringing Kohring's nephew and the teenager's summer internship with VECO into the case showed the government's desperation for a conviction, he said.
"Most people get their first job because they know somebody," he said.
But prosecutor Edward Sullivan said Kohring knew Allen had deep pockets and played him like a fiddle for wads of cash.
Allen testified during the trial he had handed over $600 to $700 at a time to Kohring between 2002 and 2006 because he thought Kohring needed money for food and lodging and because Allen wanted to keep Kohring loyal.
On one of the government's secretly recorded videos, Allen is heard telling company Vice President Rick Smith that he had given Kohring $1,000 during a dinner meeting on Feb. 21, 2006. The comment was unsolicited by a man who did not know he was being recorded, Sullivan said, undercutting Browne's contention that Allen lied to save his company and his family.
"He gave the thousand dollars so he (Kohring) would 'kiss our ass.' Is there anything else I need to say about the relationship between VECO and Vic Kohring?" Sullivan asked.
When Kohring wanted to discuss a personal matter in the VECO hotel room, Sullivan said, Allen prepared by transferring $600 from his wallet to his front pocket.
"He's heard this story over and over and over," Sullivan said. The $600 was the cash handed over after the mention of the Girl Scout uniform, he said.
The idea that Kohring would approach VECO officials during a legislative session for a $17,000 loan as they were trying to line up votes on a critical piece of legislation was itself wrong, Sullivan said.
"Why is he going to his friends and asking for money?" Sullivan asked. "Why is he not going to his family and asking for money?"
Kohring, despite a track record of making more inquiries of the legislative ethics officer than most of his colleagues, never once listed cash from Allen as a gift he had received, Sullivan said. That's because Kohring himself knew they were illegal payments, Sullivan said.
In return, for the money handed over and recorded by the camera, Kohring promised to lobby colleagues, push for industry tax credits, asking questions in the majority caucus and reporting back with information. His willingness to do so was confirmed in subsequent phone conversations, Sullivan said.
"He's making clear that he's following through on the plan that they just discussed," he said.
Bottini said there was no evidence there was anything between Allen and Kohring other than a professional relationship. Kohring, he said, figured out how to turn Allen into a human ATM machine.
"It's business," Bottini said. "Vic Kohring's got something they want. They've got something Vic Kohring wants. This is not friendship. It's business."