Weyhrauch gets suspended jail sentence, $1,000 fine

March 15, 2011 

JUNEAU -- Former Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch on Tuesday was spared jail time for his guilty plea to violating state lobbying laws, receiving instead a suspended three-month sentence, the maximum $1,000 fine and a year's probation.

In imposing a sentence stricter than was sought by Weyhrauch but less than the maximum one-year jail term, Juneau District Judge Keith Levy admonished the two-term House member for violating the public trust by knowingly consorting with unregistered oil-industry lobbyists.

From his courtroom in a building across a narrow street from the Alaska State Capitol, Levy said he wanted to send a message.

"Certainly other people in your position will be looking at what happens here today and taking that into account," Levy said. "People chosen to be leaders are given a trust and they carry big responsibilities and they need to understand there are consequences when that trust is violated."

Weyhrauch, a Republican and attorney, represented Juneau from 2002 to 2006. In his last year in office, he got caught up in the federal corruption investigation in Alaska, overheard by the FBI on wiretaps and at an Anchorage restaurant soliciting legal work from the oil-field service company Veco.

At the time, Veco's chief executive, Bill Allen, and vice president, Rick Smith, were deeply involved in lobbying for lower oil taxes, spending much of their time in Suite 604 of Juneau's Baranof Hotel -- a room the FBI secretly bugged.

A federal grand jury indicted Weyhrauch in 2007 on charges of bribery, extortion, fraud and conspiracy.

Weyhrauch's plea to a misdemeanor in state court was part of a bargain in which the felonies are dismissed. Federal prosecutors moved to do just that about three hours after Weyhrauch's sentencing hearing. U.S. District Judge John Sedwick signed the order Wednesday morning and officially cancelled Weyhrauch's federal trial, which had been set for May.

"Your honor, I take full responsibility for my actions as set forth in the plea," Weyhrauch said, a defendant addressing a judge he once addressed as an attorney. "I'm sorry -- sorry."

Even as he apologized for his conduct, a substantial part of Weyhrauch's presentation, during his own 60-second statement to the court and in the statement of his attorney, Ray Brown, was directed against the federal prosecution and how it has been reported. Brown said he had never seen an indictment that was as "bereft of objective evidence" as the one against Weyhrauch.

Weyhrauch never took money from Veco, Allen, or Smith, the two unregistered lobbyists cited in his guilty plea, Ray said. He never went to Suite 604, Brown said.

"He was not aware that Bill Allen or Rick smith were corrupt, he was not aware that Bill Allen and Rick Smith were criminals," Brown said.

Allen and Smith are serving prison time for bribery and other corruption charges in Alaska. Both cooperated with federal authorities and got reduced sentences.

"I can tell you his family has gone through hell, Bruce has suffered irreparable harm, both emotionally and professionally, and he's spent over $300,000 in defense cost," Brown said.

Levy said he could empathize with Weyhrauch and his federal case, but would not consider it.

Weyhrauch sought a suspended imposition of sentence on the lobbying charge. But Levy said such an outcome is generally applied to youthful offenders without a prior record and would be roughly comparable to no conviction at all. Though Weyhrauch had no prior record and had "done a lot of good in this community," Levy said he needed to send a message about Weyhrauch's conduct.

As he left the courtroom, Weyhrauch briefly addressed reporters.

"No citizen of this country should have gone through what I've gone through -- what the federal government, they've done to me, they can do to anyone," he said. "I look forward to a bright tomorrow and spending time with my family."

In an interview after his sentencing, Weyhrauch said he was following legislative guidelines when he solicited work from Veco without reporting it. And Veco wasn't the only company with business before the Legislature that he asked.

"Once you represent somebody you disclose it," he said. It would be too burdensome on a citizen legislature to do otherwise, he said. "I needed to work."

In the federal case, prosecutors had sought to present his failure to disclose the Veco solicitation as evidence that he committed honest services fraud. Sedwick, the trial judge, ruled the evidence inadmissible. The federal government appealed and won at the circuit court level but lost when Weyhrauch took the issue to the Supreme Court.

Still, Weyhrauch said, he wouldn't have pursued a Veco job had he known more about Allen and Smith.

"I didn't hang in the same circles, I didn't go to receptions, I didn't go to parties," he said, explaining why he didn't know about Veco's Suite 604 or suspect Veco had corrupted other legislators.

"I would help get the kids out in the morning, I would go to my law office, then I'd go to the Legislature, then I'd come back at noon, then I'd go back to the Legislature, then I'd come back to my law office then I'd go home and help make dinner and put the kids to bed and I'd come back and work till one or two," he said.

That's why he decided not to run again in 2006, he said.

"I didn't want to be in there anymore."

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