FBI said to have paid witness $200,000 during corruption probe

UNDERCOVER: He didn't think Kohring was dirty, lawyers say.

March 23, 2010 

Frank Prewitt, Alaska's former corrections commissioner and a key undercover source for the federal government as it investigated political corruption in Alaska, was paid $200,000 by the FBI for his assistance, a new court filing asserts.

Prewitt, who become a private prison consultant after his stint as commissioner in the Hickel administration ended in 1994, began working undercover for the FBI in 2004 and testified in federal trials of two Alaska lawmakers in 2007.

On Tuesday, lawyers for former state Rep. Vic Kohring, a Republican from Wasilla, filed a 72-page motion in federal court seeking to dismiss the case against Kohring or win a new trial for him.

The defense cited a variety of reasons, including allegations that the government failed to turn over damaging information about another key witness, former Veco Corp. chairman Bill Allen, accused of having sexual relations with underage girls. Kohring's defense also contends that the government intentionally hid information about Allen's poor memory.

The case against Kohring was marginal, weaker than the case against former House Speaker Pete Kott, Kohring's defense asserted.

For starters, Prewitt, whom prosecutors considered a valuable and credible witness, "did not think Mr. Kohring was dirty or corrupt, and ... had the overall impression that if Mr. Kohring were corrupt he may not realize it," according to Tuesday's court filing by Michael Filipovic, a Seattle-based assistant federal public defender.

Jurors never heard that characterization.

The defense suggests that Prewitt could have been a character witness for Kohring.

But Prewitt in an interview Tuesday indicated that would have backfired. Regarding the defense contention that he didn't believe Kohring was corrupt, Prewitt said that "I would call that a mischaracterization."

That assessment came after a dinner with Kohring in February 2005 that Prewitt secretly recorded. But later, surreptitious FBI recordings from 2006 showed Kohring accepting cash in a hotel room from Allen and audio tapes documented Allen talking about providing Kohring cash at other times.

Prewitt said he thought Kohring had been justly convicted: "I think the evidence that was presented in court speaks for itself, particularly the video and tapes."

The U.S. Justice Department has admitted that it failed to provide Kott's and Kohring's defense teams with favorable evidence before their trials. Both were convicted of bribery, conspiracy and other charges. Prosecutors contended they sold their offices to oil field services contractor Veco. Both were sent to prison.

Then, in June, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals directed they be released while questions related to the evidence are sorted out. Prosecutors have since turned over thousands of pages of additional documents.

Both Prewitt and FBI spokesman Eric Gonzalez said they could not confirm he received a reward.

"I voluntarily assisted the Department of Justice with no expectation or promise of compensation, and neither occurred during the entirety of my service and personal sacrifice during these unfortunate affairs," Prewitt said in an e-mail.

Speaking generally, Gonzalez said, the FBI does "pay sources for their services." And the amount could be a couple of hundred thousand, he said.

"Certainly it can reach that high. It depends on the case," Gonzalez said. "There are a lot of factors that go into weighing something like that, (such as) the significance of the investigation."

During the trial, Kohring's then-defense lawyer John Henry Browne of Seattle questioned Prewitt about whether he had asked the FBI to pay him. Prewitt said about a year and a half into his undercover work, he made such a request.

Browne: "Have you reached any agreement with the government to pay you in exchange for your work?"

Prewitt: "No, the government said that they couldn't make any commitments to that whatsoever, and I agreed to continue working."

Prewitt wasn't paid until after his testimony in the Kohring trial, according to the new court filing.

Among the other issues asserted in the new court filing:

• Eleven days before Kohring's trial, prosecutor Joe Bottini and lead FBI case agent Mary Beth Kepner interviewed Bambi Tyree. Allen has been accused of having a sexual relationship with her when she was 14 or 15 and providing her family with expensive gifts. Allen has denied that. The new document did not name Tyree but she previously has been publicly identified.

The defense asserts that Allen's testimony was tainted by his desire to keep information about sexual relations with underage girls secret. The seriousness of the issue is illustrated by the timing of that interview with Tyree on, as the defense called it, "the eve of the Kohring trial."

Jurors should have heard from Allen that he knew he was under investigation for alleged sex crimes and also under investigation for getting Tyree to lie under oath about their relationship, the defense said.

• Allen was the main witness against Kohring but his memory was faulty. Jurors heard he had suffered a brain injury in a motorcycle crash but were told his memory was fine. For example, Allen didn't remember how much money he had given Kohring at various times, the court filing says. Once, Smith recalled that he gave Allen $100 to give to Kohring so that he could stuff it into a plastic Easter egg for his stepdaughter. But Allen testified that he gave Kohring hundreds of dollars during that same episode.


Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390.

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