The defense case for former state Rep. Vic Kohring consisted of two witnesses who on Tuesday spent just an hour on the stand between them: Kohring's 19-year-old nephew and a longtime Kohring friend and political adviser from the Mat-Su area.
The Wasilla Republican never testified. His lawyer, John Henry Browne, hinted at several points during the trial that Kohring would do so. But it's always a gamble for a defendant to face prosecutors, and Browne said Tuesday they decided there was no need.
"It's definitely a tough call," Browne said. "We agonized until 12 or 1 o'clock last night and we were ready to go either way today. And my feeling is that they just haven't proven the case."
Closing arguments in the corruption case are set for this morning.
Jurors will have to decide whether Kohring solicited and accepted bribes from executives with the former Veco Corp. to push the oil field service company's interests on an oil tax and other matters. The defense says the money Kohring took was simply gifts from friends. Veco is no more -- it was sold to CH2M Hill in September.
If the jury believes former Veco chief executive Bill Allen, "we're in trouble," Browne said. Allen testified about making payments to Kohring during last year's legislative session -- hundreds of dollars in cash handed to him in front of a secret FBI surveillance camera in Veco's hotel suite, $1,000 in cash during dinner at a Juneau-area bar, several hundred dollars more on the last night of a special session. Allen said he gave Kohring cash multiple other times going back to 2002.
Browne said Allen shouldn't be believed, that he would lie to save his adult children, who were part owners of Veco, from prosecution.
The bribes, prosecutors say, consist of $2,100 to $2,600 in 2006, the $3,000 summer job for Kohring's nephew, and an attempt to get another $17,000 from the Veco executives to pay off a credit card bill. In all, Kohring faces four felony counts: bribery, conspiracy, extortion and attempted extortion.
On Tuesday, Aaron Kohring took the stand for the defense to tell jurors about his 2006 summer job with Veco.
Prosecutors say that Aaron was hired for a well-paying summer internship because Kohring pulled strings with Veco executives.
Aaron's a tall, athletic-looking young man with close-cropped hair. He was a basketball star in high school. He wore a tan sweater and seemed calm on the stand, though he said later said it was difficult for him.
Under questioning by Browne, he told jurors that he was exceptionally close to his uncle.
"I grew up without a father and Vic has always been there kind of filling that role, pretty much," Aaron told jurors.
Aaron said his Uncle Vic told him in early 2006 that positions were opening up at Veco. He was 17, about to graduate from high school, and needed a summer job. Someone at Veco, not his uncle, told him he was hired. He said his job ended up being "mainly a facility position or a facility worker, I guess you'd call it."
He worked eight hours a day, made $16 an hour, and used the money to help pay for his first year as a petroleum engineering student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and to cover some bills at home, he said.
Then it was prosecutor Joe Bottini's turn to ask the questions. Under cross examination, Aaron said that Kohring helped him put his resume together. And his uncle either e-mailed it or hand-delivered it to Veco.
Asked by Bottini whether he ever interviewed for the job, he said he didn't.
"You basically give a resume to your uncle, as far as you know, that gets turned in to Veco?"
"Mm-hmm," Aaron responded
"And then someone calls you and says you're hired, right?"
"Mm-hmm," he said.
Wasn't the job basically moving furniture, emptying recycling bins, rearranging cubicles? Aaron agreed it was manual labor.
Prosecutors have made a point that he also got $24 an hour for overtime but Aaron said he only made that two or three times for working through lunch.
Later Tuesday after the defense wrapped up, prosecutors called Kari MacDonald, a recruiting specialist for Veco who now works for CH2M Hill.
She said the summer internship was supposed to be a mentorship for college juniors and seniors, not new high school graduates.
So why was Aaron Kohring hired? Bottini asked.
"He was referred to us by Bill Allen," MacDonald said. Former Veco vice president Rick Smith earlier testified that he wrote the referral that mentioned Aaron was Kohring's nephew, but he signed Allen's name.
Without that, MacDonald said she "highly doubted" Aaron would have been hired.
Also on Tuesday, the defense called Robert Hall, owner of Gorilla Fireworks in Houston, a lawyer and a political consultant to Kohring.
He is 49, the same age as Kohring, and they went to Dimond High together. He described Kohring as "a friend and client."
Hall, wearing black jeans and a plaid shirt with pearl buttons, spoke softly, but also conversationally, sometimes directly talking to the jury. He looks like an older version of the actor Jack Black.
Both sides seemed to use him as a surrogate for Kohring. Browne asked Hall about former Kohring aide Eric Musser.
Prosecutors say Allen asked Kohring in 2004 to get Musser to drop a campaign money complaint against then-Rep. Beverly Masek, R-Willow. They also say Kohring laid off Musser and then made the layoff permanent. But they didn't call Musser to testify.
"Was Mr. Musser ever fired by Mr. Kohring?" Browne asked.
"No, he was not," Hall replied.
After hearing about Hall's testimony, Musser called into the Mike Porcaro talk show on KENI-AM to tell his side of the story. He told Porcaro that he did, indeed, get fired.
"How would Robert know? He wasn't my boss. I mean, I didn't work for Robert Hall," Musser said. "... Mr. Hall's memory must be eluding him."
Prosecutor Edward Sullivan, with the U.S. Justice Department's Public Integrity Section in Washington, D.C., tried to show the business and political ties between Hall and Kohring in cross examining Hall.
Hall said that he and his wife and probably his father had given to Kohring's campaigns. "We loaned him a truck, but it was in my wife's name, and I declared that as a contribution," Hall said.
He said all he got out of lending the truck was a full tank of gas and a lube job.
The prosecutor asked about different businesses or companies Hall owned -- a coffee stand, fireworks stands, a company called Alaska Nanometal, a media business that placed ads for Kohring.
Since 2000, the prosecutor asked, is it true that Hall's media business has been paid more than $63,000 by Kohring's campaigns?
"That could be," Hall said, including the costs of buying ads.
Sullivan asked Hall where Kohring stayed when he was working as a legislator in Juneau.
Kohring was first elected in 1994 and at first lived with roommates, Hall said. Then Kohring slept on a boat and then in a camper, he said. The last six to eight years, Kohring slept on a couch in his office, Hall said.
Would Hall be surprised to hear that Kohring made nearly $100,000, including his base salary and consulting work? Sullivan asked.
"Well, I think that would only be one year. ... I think the other years, it would have topped out at ($80,000) or so," Hall said.
Sullivan asked Hall whether Kohring performed "official acts" to help his fireworks business.
"On several occasions," Hall answered.
Sullivan asked him whether he knew of proposals to restrict fireworks after the enormous 1996 Miller's Reach fire. Hall at first said he didn't. He said there was never an official cause but that officials found bottle rockets twisted together and buried near where the fire started.
Didn't Hall remember Kohring "running around the halls of the governor's office trying to address this fireworks issue?" Sullivan asked. Hall said he remembers efforts to restrict fireworks for safety reasons.
After both sides wrapped up Tuesday morning, Kohring told reporters he felt confident but acknowledged: "There's no guarantees. You're rolling the dice when you go to trial."
He showed reporters something he's had with him throughout the trial: An icon of St. Victor. He said his wife, who is Russian, gave it to him in 2003 "to keep me safe and successful."