JUNEAU -- Federal prosecutors have agreed to drop four felony charges against former Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch in return for his agreement to plead guilty to single misdemeanor in state court.
The plea agreement, signed and filed Friday in Juneau District Court, represents another setback for the federal investigation of public corruption in Alaska. The Weyhrauch deal was signed the same day that an appeals court threw out the felony convictions of another former legislator, Vic Kohring, and ordered a new trial.
Weyhrauch, a Republican who represented Juneau in the Alaska House from 2002-2006, said he would plead guilty to knowingly working with unregistered lobbyists in the 2006 legislative session. The unregistered "lobbyists" were the former chief executive and one vice president of the oil-field service company Veco Corp., Bill Allen and Rick Smith.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of a year in prison and $1,000 fine. Weyhrauch, an attorney, will probably be able to keep his law license under the deal. The federal felonies generally carry penalties of five years in prison and $250,000 fines and would have cost him his law license if convicted.
The deal bars prosecutors from making any recommendation on Weyhrauch's penalty, a further indication that they've capitulated in the case.
A date for Weyhrauch to appear in state court hasn't been set, but it appears it will be soon. The federal prosecutor from the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section in Washington, D.C., Kevin Driscoll, has gotten authorization from Alaska Attorney General John Burns to appear as special counsel on behalf of the Juneau district attorney, though a judge still has to give final approval.
Weyhrauch was indicted in 2007 and charged with using his position as a legislator to attempt to get legal work from Veco. The charges included evidence from wiretaps and a recorded conversation at a restaurant meeting in Anchorage with Allen and Smith in which Weyhrauch sought the work while a key oil-tax bill sought by Veco was before the Legislature.
The new state charge drops the references to bribery, extortion and fraud. Instead, Weyhrauch admits he knew Allen and Smith should have registered as lobbyists.
"Weyhrauch knowingly participated in Allen and Smith lobbying him on Veco's preferred version of the pending oil-tax legislation notwithstanding his awareness of a substantial probability that Allen and Smith met the statutory criteria for registering as lobbyists," his plea deal said.
The plea agreement describes some of the history about how Allen had gotten the state's lobbying law changed so he wouldn't have to register.
In 2002, the agreement noted, the Alaska Public Offices Commission opened an investigation into whether Allen and Smith had failed to register as lobbyists. The consequences of a violation weren't just civil fines. Had Allen and Smith been judged lobbyists, they would have been barred from making the large campaign contributions they were famous for, shutting off a key source of campaign cash for the Republican Party and its candidates.
The law in 2002 said a lobbyist was someone who spent at least four hours a month trying to influence legislation. In 2003, the plea agreement noted, the Legislature changed it to 40 hours a month.
"Press reports at the time referred to this legislation as being designed to relieve Bill Allen of registering as a lobbyist," the plea agreement said.
Nevertheless, when oil-tax legislation leading to a possible deal for a gas pipeline emerged in 2006, Allen and Smith began a major lobbying operation to shape the bill.
"In January of 2006, Allen and Smith traveled to Juneau and began staying at a suite at the Baranof Hotel rented by Veco so they could lobby various legislators and other public officials regarding the gas pipeline agreement and proposed oil taxation changes," the plea deal said. "The presence of Allen and Smith during January through May of 2006 lobbying for the gas pipeline agreement and proposed oil taxation changes was ubiquitous."
It was clear that both men fit even the 2003 "looser criteria" of lobbyist, the plea agreement said. "Yet, neither Allen nor Smith registered as a lobbyist in 2006."
While disposing of the far more serious federal charges, the plea agreement raises a new question. Many other legislators who were never charged in the federal case were actively lobbied by Allen and Smith. Will any of them now be investigated by state law enforcement? A spokesman for the state Department of Law couldn't be reached for comment.