Jurors hearing the corruption case against former state Rep. Tom Anderson are getting a window into a seamy side of Alaska politics, a world of connections, power and money.
On the stand most of Thursday as prosecutors began calling witnesses in U.S. District Court: former state corrections commissioner and Cornell Cos. consultant Frank Prewitt.
Prewitt, commissioner in the 1990s during the Hickel administration, told jurors that he "was visited by the FBI" in April 2004. The FBI was investigating legislative consulting contracts, campaign contributions and favors exchanged for official acts, Prewitt told jurors. Prosecutors and the defense both earlier told jurors that Prewitt himself was under investigation and began cooperating when the FBI confronted him.
He said he soon began secretly recording conversations with "persons of interest" to the FBI. Prosecutors played snippets of seven of those recordings in court on Thursday.
Prosecutors accuse Anderson of participating in a scheme in which a sham business was created to funnel money to him, purportedly from Cornell, a Houston, Texas, prison company. He is accused of accepting $12,838 and faces seven felony counts. Cornell actually knew nothing of the scheme, the U.S. Justice Department has said. The FBI gave Prewitt the money.
Listening in the audience were some of Anderson's friends and relatives, including his mother, Christiane, and wife, state Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage.
One conversation played for jurors took place July 21, 2004, at the Southside Bistro in Anchorage.
Prewitt and lobbyist Bill Bobrick were meeting over the prospects of working out an arrangement to pay Anderson to work on Cornell's Alaska interests. Prewitt said those included a private prison, halfway house contracts and a new juvenile treatment center.
Halfway houses earned it $10 million to $12 million a year, and the juvenile center it wanted so intensely would add another $6 million, Prewitt testified. Running a large private prison would be even more lucrative.
Bobrick told Prewitt the company paid him $5,000 a month. He was hired after Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich told Cornell it needed a lobbyist to deal with various city issues concerning the juvenile center.
Bobrick told Prewitt that with Anderson, they'd get "two for one." At the time, McGuire was in the House, chair of that body's Judiciary Committee and dating Anderson, chairman of the Labor Committee.
"So we get two legislators for the price of one?" Prewitt asked.
"Yeah," Bobrick said.
Prewitt told jurors that committee heads and budget writers were particularly valuable.
"You get a bigger bang for your buck if someone has seniority and has influence," he testified.
MCGUIRE LASHES BACK
During a break in the trial today, McGuire said she was outraged at the implication that she would go along with such a scheme.
"It sickens me," McGuire said. "They don't even know me."
McGuire referred to Bobrick, who has pleaded guilty in the corruption investigation, as "an admitted criminal." She said that Prewitt was under investigation himself for suspected illegal activities and that he was cooperating to get himself out of trouble.
"Who cares what they have to say," McGuire said.
There's no evidence that McGuire knew about any deal between Cornell and her husband, prosecutors have said.
In pitching Anderson to Prewitt, Bobrick described him as hungry, aggressive and a rising star. Bobrick also indicated others were trying to use him.
"There's like a struggle for Tom Anderson's soul," Bobrick says in one recording.
In a July 28, 2004, meeting of Anderson, Bobrick and Prewitt at the Whale's Tail in the Hotel Captain Cook, Anderson seemed torn. He said he wanted to help Cornell, but only "where I am not conflicted as a legislator."
He said he couldn't lobby fellow legislators and wanted to work behind the scenes, more on the municipal end of things.
The recording included video but the picture mainly showed Anderson's hands and part of his shirt.
But even as Anderson said he wanted to draw a line, he asked Prewitt whether there's any conflict with him getting on budget panels for corrections, and health and social services -- the very subcommittees that Prewitt said Cornell wanted him on. And when Prewitt asked the legislator if, in a pinch, he could call in allies, Anderson responded "Of course. That's fair."
Prewitt told Anderson that state Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage and the chairman of those same budget subcommittees, already was working on Cornell issues but couldn't do it single-handedly. Hawker said in an e-mail Thursday that he tried to keep halfway houses open and worked to get a private prison in Whittier because he represents the area and the mayor asked him for help.
'CARRYING OUR WATER'
In various conversations, Bobrick pitches the business he wanted to create, which frequently changed name and form. Maybe it would be a political newsletter. Maybe a Web site. Hawker and Begich might write for it, Bobrick told Prewitt. Cornell would buy ads, but both Anderson and Bobrick knew that's not what it was paying for, Prewitt testified.
In reality, "Rep. Anderson would be carrying our water on issues," Prewitt told jurors.
On Aug. 6, 2004, Bobrick told Prewitt that Anderson needed $2,000 to $2,500 a month for child support -- an assertion that several of the jurors appeared to jot down. Anderson had three children before marrying McGuire, according to legislative disclosure reports. The couple has a son.
Prewitt's testimony will continue today. Anderson's lawyer still gets his chance to cross-examine him.
Anderson represented East Anchorage in the Legislature from 2003 until January. He didn't run for re-election last year.
His trial is expected to last about two weeks.
Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390.