Cowdery stays in Senate after guilty plea

Senator will continue to be paid by state until term expires Jan. 20

Posted: Sunday, December 21, 2008

ANCHORAGE - State Sen. John Cowdery pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge but remains a member of the state Senate.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline accepted Cowdery's guilty plea Friday and set sentencing for March 10.

The 78-year-old Cowdery, an Anchorage Republican, admitted to conspiring with the head of VECO Corp., Bill Allen, to bribe another state senator to back VECO's position on pending oil-tax legislation in 2006. Allen has pleaded guilty to bribery.

The other state senator, Democrat Donny Olson of Nome, never took the $25,000 in illegal campaign contributions. Olson has said he cooperated with the federal investigation.

Cowdery did not seek re-election and his term ends next month. He has resisted calls to step down and will continue to be paid as a senator until his term expires Jan. 20.

In return for Cowdery's guilty plea, prosecutors promised to recommend a sentence of between six and 12 months with confinement at home instead of prison.

The government will recommend a fine of no more than $25,000, unless a presentence report determines Cowdery has unusual wealth. The government recommendation for a fine could rise to $75,000.

Prosecutors agreed to drop a bribery charge.

Cowdery is the 10th person to be convicted in the federal corruption investigation, with one other legislator, former state Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, a Juneau Republican, awaiting trial.

Cowdery has represented parts of the Anchorage Hillside and the Lake Otis Parkway area for 14 years in the Alaska House and Senate.

Cowdery's plea deal does not require him to testify against anyone else or to cooperate in the ongoing investigation.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline accepted Cowdery's guilty plea in a 32-minute hearing. Beistline set sentencing for March 10.

Much of the hearing Friday was taken up with the judge to make sure Cowdery understood what rights he was waiving.

By agreeing to plea, Cowdery gives up his right to appeal and must accept the sentence he receives, the judge told him.

As a felon, the judge said, he could not possess a firearm, vote, hold a public office or sit on a jury. Cowdery acknowledged the limitations.

Prosecutor James Goeke read a six-page statement of facts that accompanied the plea.

The document contained a conversation over breakfast at a restaurant among Cowdery, Allen and Olson. FBI agents knew about the meeting from a wiretap on Allen's phone and managed to get part of the talk recorded.

"As I told you there in my home, this (legislation) is important to (Allen)," Cowdery was recorded saying to Olson. "I told him that I thought you would probably go, you guys would probably vote the way we voted."

Allen asked Olson how much he would need for his upcoming primary election bid. Olson said he had $100,000 of his own but would need more.

"How much are you good for?" Olson asked Allen.


"How much are you good for?" Olson repeated.

"Oh, we can probably go 25," Allen said.

"That's a good start," Olson said.

After Olson walked away from the table, Allen and Cowdery continued the conversation.

"What do you think?" Cowdery said.

"I think he'll be there, if he gives us his word," Allen said.

"Absolutely," Cowdery said. "That's what he did."

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