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Prosecutors win step in Weyhrauch case

Appeals court to allow key evidence in ex-lawmaker's trial

Posted: Thursday, November 27, 2008

Former state Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, has lost a bid to undermine a key charge in the U.S. Department of Justice's corruption case against him.

Weyhrauch, who represented Juneau's Mendenhall Valley district in the Legislature from 2002 to 2006, has been charged by federal prosecutors in connection with their investigation into VECO Corp.'s buying influence in the Alaska Legislature.

At the time, oil and natural gas legislation worth tens of billions of dollars was under consideration.

"Weyhrauch allegedly voted and took other official action on legislation at the direction of VECO while engaged in undisclosed negotiations for future legal work," according to accusations in court filings.

Weyhrauch was arrested in May of 2007 after he was indicted on the charges. He had been scheduled to stand trial in September of that year, but the trial was put on hold as prosecutors and Weyhrauch's attorney battled over evidence.

U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick in Anchorage barred prosecutors from introducing evidence about Alaska's conflict of interest rules, but prosecutors with the department's Public Integrity Section in Washington, D.C., appealed, saying that was crucial to their case.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Sedwick's decision Wednesday and allowed the evidence to be submitted.

At the same time, the panel expressed frustration with the length of the appeal process and prosecutors' failure to provide documentation to back up their claims.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice declined further comment Wednesday.

"The department doesn't comment beyond the information in court filings," said Laura Sweeney, in the DOJ public affairs section.

Preliminary legal filings in the case had made it appear Weyhrauch was close to getting the evidence dismissed on a technicality, not on its merits.

Prosecutors are required to get a state's U.S. attorney to certify to the necessity of appeals. In the Weyhrauch case, there was no U.S. attorney available because of recusals due to potential conflicts of interest.

Instead, after more than a year of legal wrangling, the appeals court let U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey certify the appeal retroactively, and let the trial go ahead.

Weyhrauch's attorney, Douglas Pope of Anchorage, was out of the office Wednesday and unavailable for comment.

Weyhrauch can ask for a rehearing from the same panel, if he thinks they missed some point, or for an appeal from the full Ninth Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court. Pope said last month he expected to appeal if Weyhrauch lost before the three-judge panel.

The prosecution's charges against Weyhrauch allege that he deprived the public of his "honest services" when he failed to disclose his negotiations with VECO for a job.

Prosecutors want to show a jury that Weyhrauch was a member of the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics, and should have known what they said were his duties to disclose financial conflicts.

Pope has argued that Weyhrauch complied with all Alaska state laws on conflict of interest and disclosure.

That contention is likely to play a key role in the trial, now that the appeals court has determined it is admissible.

The charges against Weyhrauch differed significantly from those against numerous other legislators, some of whom are currently serving time in federal prison.

The delay may have helped Weyhrauch, since he will now be tried on his own rather than alongside former House Speaker Pete Kott, D-Eagle River, as federal prosecutors had originally sought.

Kott, who moved his flooring business to Juneau after he was defeated in his re-election bid, was an easy conviction for the feds.

He was recorded by the FBI saying, "I sold my soul to the devil," referring to his dealings with VECO Corp. CEO Bill Allen. Kott is serving time in a federal prison in Oregon; Allen is expected to be a key witness at Weyhrauch's trial.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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