Ex-legislator Kott given six years in prison

Judge says behavior has shaken Alaskans' faith in government

Posted: Sunday, December 09, 2007

ANCHORAGE - The attorney for a former Alaska legislator convicted of bribery urged leniency Friday for his client.

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Defense attorney James Wendt said former House Speaker Kott received minimal personal benefit trading influence for cash from a company tied to the oil industry. Unlike other bribery cases, Wendt said, there was no direct harm to anyone, such as a deserving contractor missing out on a job.

Government trial attorney Nicholas Marsh said he had to control his reaction to that conclusion. Kott, a 14-year state representative from Eagle River, was caught on tape taking bribes to influence Alaska's revision of tax on crude oil, the state's primary source of income. Billions of dollars for Alaska were at stake.

"We submit," Marsh said, "this is an absolutely extraordinary case."

U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick agreed. Sedwick said Kott's behavior had shaken the faith of Alaskans in their government. Hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions, were in play under a revised tax rate. Sedwick also concluded that Kott had committed perjury in his testimony.

For those reasons, Sedwick said, Kott merited more prison time than the federal guidelines of 51 to 63 months. Sedwick ordered Kott imprisoned for six years, put him on supervised probation for another three and fined him $10,000. The sentence had to be severe enough, Sedwick said, to deter others who would betray the public trust because of the influence of powerful men.

"We need to stiffen up some backbones here," he said.

Kott was convicted in September of bribery, extortion and conspiracy for acting on behalf of executives of VECO Corp., a major Alaska firm that performed maintenance, design and construction contracts for petroleum producers. He was the second of three former lawmakers with ties to convicted this year.

Former state Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Anchorage, was convicted of taking nearly $24,000 from what he thought was a private prison company in exchange for his legislative influence. According to testimony in other trials, Anderson also held a $20,000 contract with VECO for which he performed no work. He was not prosecuted for his ties to VECO.

Former state Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, was convicted in November of improperly accepting at least $2,600 from Bill Allen, the former VECO chairman.

The trial of former Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, who was indicted at the same time as Kott and Kohring, has been delayed. Federal prosecutors are appealing a ruling by Judge Sedwick that the legislature had no rule to require Weyhrauch to disclose that he was seeking employment from VECO at the same time he was voting on a bill in which the company had an interest.

Also, the FBI is investigating whether Ted Stevens, the U.S. Senate's longest-serving Republican, received illegal gifts from VECO. Allen testified at the trial of Kott and Kohring that VECO employees worked on the renovation of Stevens' Girdwood home for up to six months. Stevens has said he paid every bill he was given.

Kott through his hardwood flooring business took nearly $8,000 from Allen and passed it on to his son, Peter Kott Jr., so the younger man could work as his father's campaign manager in 2006.

Kott took another $1,000 from former VECO CEO Bill Allen as reimbursement for a donation Kott made to the campaign of former Gov. Frank Murkowski. VECO paid $2,750 for a political poll in Kott's re-election race. VECO officials also promised him a job after he retired from the legislature.

Allen and a former VECO vice president, Rick Smith, were key witnesses in Kott's trial. Both pleaded guilty in May to bribing Kott and other lawmakers. Their agreements with prosecutors require them to provide substantial assistance in other cases.

The government's case was based on wiretaps of three phones belonging to Allen and Smith plus video and audio recordings made by a camera that the FBI placed in a Juneau hotel room rented by VECO during the 2006 legislative session. The recordings show Kott, Allen and Smith discussing legislative strategy.

In one call, Kott said he wanted to be a lobbyist after he left the legislature. Allen testified it was understood that VECO would hire Kott.

Allen and Smith testified that they schemed with Kott to give him $7,993 through his hardwood flooring business so that Kott could hire his son. Kott, his girlfriend, Debora Stovern, and his son testified that the check was for future work at Allen's house.

Sedwick agreed with prosecutors that Kott had concocted the story and a phony invoice to explain away the $7,993 check, a plot "carefully planned to deceive the jury."

Sedwick did, however, reject other government arguments that would have extended Kott's sentence.

Related story: Lawmakers praise tough sentence, but some think it was not enough

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