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Former state Rep. Vic Kohring and his attorney John Henry Browne speak to the media outside the Federal Courthouse in Anchorage on Thursday, after Kohring was convicted on three of four counts of corruption for selling influence to Veco Corp. executives. A federal jury found him guilty of conspiracy, attempted extortion and bribery. He was found not guilty of extortion..
Jurors decide ex-legislator took money to sway oil tax
Published: October 31, 2007
Last Modified: November 2, 2007 at 02:56 PM
Less than an hour after a federal jury convicted former state Rep. Vic Kohring of public corruption charges on Thursday, he apologized to the people of Alaska for the stress and trauma of the investigation and trial.
But he stopped short of accepting responsibility for the crimes of bribery, conspiracy and attempted extortion -- crimes he now stands convicted of committing.
Kohring is on a tightrope. If he accepts blame now, he could spoil any appeal. But if he's defiant, prosecutors are sure to point that out when it's time to be sentenced.
"I expected this as a possible outcome and, as I said yesterday, I'm going to accept it and move on regardless," said Kohring, 49.
The 12-member jury convicted Kohring, a Wasilla Republican, on three of four counts, concluding that he sold his office to the oil-field service company Veco Corp. and former executives Bill Allen and Rick Smith, who pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy and cooperated with the government.
Jurors found that he conspired with Allen and Smith to push a new oil tax favored by North Slope oil producers through the Legislature in 2006, tried to extort them to pay his $17,000 credit card debt, and took bribes from them.
But jurors also issued one "not guilty" verdict. Kohring was acquitted of extorting money, and a summer job for his nephew, from Allen, Veco's former chief executive, and Smith, a former vice president.
Kohring's defense asserted that it was friendship, not greed and politics, that led Kohring to ask Allen and Smith for money and do Veco's bidding in Juneau.
The government says he knew what he was doing. Kohring "betrayed his oath of office and the people of Alaska when he deliberately and repeatedly took bribes in exchange for official acts," assistant attorney general Alice Fisher of the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C., said in a written statement. She thanked the federal prosecutors and FBI agents.
As they left the Federal Building, jurors looked drained but relieved after roughly nine hours of deliberations over two days. Only a few would talk. They said they anguished over their decision.
One, who declined to be identified other than as "juror No. 8," said "they didn't get the sharks. They got the minnow."
Most felt sorry for Kohring and saw him as "a very sympathetic figure," said Alan Rowe, juror No. 12.
"The circumstances surrounding the case were tragic," said Rowe, a courier for Cal Worthington Ford who plays keyboard in a classic rock and soul band called Al and the Kaholics.
Kohring seemed like he really wanted what's best for Alaska but showed poor judgment when he got in cahoots with Veco executives, Rowe said.
Kohring couldn't get past the damning videotapes secretly filmed in Veco's suite in Juneau's Baranof Hotel and the telephone wiretaps.
But surprisingly, Rowe said, the most convincing FBI recording wasn't the one from March 30, 2006, in which Kohring is seen twice taking cash from Allen. Defense lawyer John Henry Browne's characterization of that scene as the "Easter egg incident" resonated with jurors, Rowe said. In the video, Allen tells Kohring the money is to be put in plastic Easter eggs and to help out with a Girl Scout uniform for his stepdaughter.
"We didn't want to implicate the little girl," Rowe said.
But jurors believed that Allen slipped Kohring $1,000 during a Feb. 23, 2006, dinner at the Juneau-area Island Pub, and that the money was a bribe, Rowe said. On a surveillance video less than two weeks later, Allen and Smith talk about the payment and how Kohring would now "kiss our ass."
On the conspiracy count, Rowe said, the strongest evidence came from a June 8, 2006, recording that jurors asked to see again during deliberations.
It was the last night of a special session on the oil tax, by then at a rate higher than Veco wanted. Kohring tells Allen he would have done what Veco wanted to upend the bill, even if it hurt him politically.
Jurors didn't think much of the allegation that Kohring was bribed when he secured a summer internship at Veco for his nephew, Rowe said. "We're all thinking, 'So what?' This is the way the world works."
Talking to a few reporters outside the courtroom doors just after the verdict, Kohring described the jurors as "good people" with the right intentions, and said he wanted to thank them for their hard work. He thanked the people of Alaska too, for his more than 12 years in office. He also wanted to say he was sorry.
"Just to apologize to these same people, including my family and friends, for the trauma they experienced, as I did, over the last 14 months, leading up to today," Kohring said.
His friend Fred James, who sat behind Kohring each day of the trial, said he thought Kohring was done in by pre-trial publicity, tried and convicted in the Daily News and on television. Asked if he agreed, Kohring said, "I think in part, yes."
Browne had tried to get the trial moved outside of Alaska, but U.S. District Judge John Sedwick rejected that. The judge questioned jurors extensively and excluded those who had already made up their minds.
Kohring and his lawyer walked downstairs to face a semicircle of microphones and TV cameras and answer more questions.
Does he still maintain his innocence?
"I'd rather not go there at this point," Kohring said.
Browne said they hadn't decided whether to appeal but had several possible points, including the fact that they hadn't been allowed to put on character witnesses.
"We have an outcome here that is difficult for me, of course," Kohring said. "But I've got a great future ahead of me and I'm looking forward to that future."
His wife, Tatiana, is supportive and they've been talking regularly, he said, though she couldn't be there for the trial. She lives near Portland, Ore.
Kohring said he didn't regret not taking a plea deal. There was never a reasonable offer anyway, Browne said.
After court on Thursday, prosecutor Joe Bottini took the unusual step of singling out prosecution witness Frank Prewitt, who has been working undercover for the FBI since 2004. Prewitt was a minor witness in the Kohring trial, but his work helped investigators get the evidence they needed for wiretaps on phones and bugs planted in Suite 604 at the Baranof.
While Browne called Prewitt a "sleazy lobbyist" in his closing argument Wednesday, Bottini said that's not how the government feels about him.
"Nothing can be further from the truth," Bottini said. Prewitt has done a "tremendous" job for the government, he said. "We owe him a lot, frankly."
Kohring was the third person convicted by a jury in the government's wide-ranging corruption scandal. It has yet to lose a case. Juries took about the same amount of time to convict the first two, ex-Reps. Pete Kott and Tom Anderson.
Judge Sedwick set Kohring's sentencing for Feb. 6. Prosecutors estimated that Kohring could be facing three to five years.
Reaction from Juneau
The FBI's and U.S. Justice Department's investigation into public corruption in Alaska continues. It's unclear when, or whether, additional charges will be filed, and officials will not discuss the investigation's targets. But at least two other current or former lawmakers have been identified in charging documents and testimony as committing illegal acts in cahoots with Veco officials: former state Sen. Ben Stevens and current Sen. John Cowdery, both Anchorage Republicans.
Sentencing for former House Speaker Pete Kott, convicted of bribery, extortion and conspiracy in September, is set for Dec. 7. Kohring is the third former state representative convicted since the wide-ranging federal investigation of public corruption burst into view last August with the simultaneous searches of six state lawmakers' offices. So far:
Former Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Anchorage, was convicted in July of bribery, money laundering and other charges for taking payoffs from a consultant.
Former House Speaker Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, was convicted of bribery, extortion and conspiracy in September for his dealings with Veco executives on oil tax legislation last year.
Former Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, was charged with bribery and other crimes for his dealings with Veco executives. He's awaiting trial while questions about evidence in his case are appealed.
Former Veco CEO Bill Allen pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy for his dealing with Kott, Kohring, Weyhrauch and other lawmakers. He's awaiting sentencing.
Former Veco vice president Rick Smith pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy for his dealing with Kott, Kohring, Weyhrauch and other lawmakers. He's awaiting sentencing.
Former lobbyist Bill Bobrick, a longtime lobbyist on the city level, pleaded guilty to conspiracy for bribing Anderson. He's awaiting sentencing.
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