Cowdery prosecutors seek year confinement, fine

RECOMMENDATIONS: Prosecutors want one year; defense seeks six months.

March 3, 2009 

Former Sen. John Cowdery arrives at court in August 2008.

JIM LAVRAKAS / DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE 2008

Federal prosecutors on Tuesday asked that former State Sen. John Cowdery be sentenced to a year of home confinement and fined $25,000 for conspiring with oil industry executive Bill Allen to bribe another senator.

But Cowdery, due to be sentenced next week by U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline, pleaded that he should get the minimum punishment of six months and a much lower fine due to his failing health, long career in public service and business, and his agreement to admit guilt.

In a sentencing memorandum filed Tuesday morning, Cowdery's attorney, Kevin Fitzgerald, said he and the prosecutors are largely in agreement. The only two unresolved issues for the judge are the length of home confinement -- six months or a year -- and the amount of the fine.

Fitzgerald said the government told him that $25,000 is the amount at issue in the bribery allegation, so that should also be the fine. But Fitzgerald asked Beistline to fine Cowdery at the "lower end" of a range that starts at $2,000.

Cowdery also filed a stack of 27 letters from politicians, lobbyists, contractors, businessmen, friends and relatives asking for leniency. Most cite Cowdery's age and failing health -- he's 79 and has been hospitalized for numerous ailments -- and his 60-year life in Alaska as a contractor and legislator.

His daughter, Pam, added a letter of her own that she e-mailed to the Daily News and said she would deliver to Beistline at her father's sentencing. In it, she pleaded for leniency and suggested that Cowdery might not have offered up his guilty plea if he hadn't been in ill health.

"Our family as a unit decided not to fight the charges against my father due to my parents' ages and health issues," she wrote. "Please have mercy, your honor, my Dad, Mom and family have been punished enough -- what with the media coverage, people cooking pork in my parents' driveway, reporters banging on the doors, the never-ending phone calls -- all this while my Dad was in the hospital and Mom was home alone."

CALL FOR LENIENCY

Among the other letter writers, his only grandson, Frank McHenry, said Cowdery was a special force in his life. Cowdery taught him how to run heavy equipment at age 8. "He taught me how to fly his plane, how to shoot a gun, how to operate a boat and how to run a snowmobile -- all before I was 14."

While Beistline doesn't have to follow the recommendations of the government or the defense, McHenry, who has children of his own, urged that Cowdery not get prison time.

"To speak bluntly, I am very afraid that if you sentence my Grandfather to serve any jail time, I think it will be a death sentence not only for my Grandfather, but also for my Grandmother. With his failing health, he has a hard enough time getting up and down the stairs or getting across the house to use the restroom. ... I am unsure if you are aware about my Grandmother's poor health. She has heart problems, has a pacemaker installed and has issues with her blood -- just to name a few things. She is one tough woman, but I think one of the main reasons she is still with us is to take care of her husband."

Former Anchorage mayor and state legislator Tom Fink also weighed in on behalf of Cowdery, echoing others when he urged leniency: "I believe he has contributed substantially to the well being of the citizens of this city and this state."

PROSECUTORS POINT TO CRIME

But the two prosecutors in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Goeke and trial attorney Edward Sullivan of the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section in Washington, said Cowdery was a corrupting force in the Legislature.

"It cannot be disputed that the defendant's crime, particularly given his past leadership roles in the Alaska State Senate, has struck a severe blow to the public's faith in the Alaska State Legislature and their elected leaders," Goeke and Sullivan wrote in the government's memorandum.

In December, while still a member of the state Senate, Cowdery pleaded guilty to conspiring with Allen and a Veco vice president, Rick Smith, to bribe another state senator into agreeing to take Veco's position on pending oil-tax legislation in 2006. Veco and the other state senator, Donny Olson, never consummated the deal, which would have gotten Olson $25,000 in illegal campaign contributions.

In return for the plea, the government dropped a second charge of bribery.

Olson has said he cooperated with the federal investigation.

In describing the case, Goeke and Sullivan said Cowdery tried "to induce another Alaska State Senator to sell his office for personal gain. Fortunately for the State of Alaska and its citizens, the other Alaska State Senator did not agree to sell his office."

Cowdery is the 10th person to be convicted in the broad federal corruption investigation in Alaska, with one other legislator awaiting trial. A Republican who spent most of his working life as a contractor, Cowdery represented parts of the Anchorage Hillside and the Lake Otis Parkway area for 14 years in the Alaska House and Senate.

Veco, an oil field service company, and Allen have been at the center of the investigation. Cowdery said he became friends with Allen years ago when both were contractors with similar backgrounds: poorly educated men who dropped out of school at an early age and turned to construction to support themselves and their families, eventually owning successful businesses.

Home confinements vary, depending on how a judge sees the issues. Some defendants are just given curfews, while others are essentially incarcerated at home. At an earlier hearing, Beistline indicated that Cowdery would be free to come and go for medical treatment.

The federal probation and pretrial services office enforces home confinements with an ankle bracelet and a phone link that dials an officer if the bracelet gets out of range. Some jurisdictions use GPS monitors that can track the location of a defendant.


Find Richard Mauer online at adn.com/contact/rmauer or call 257-4345.

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