As the federal corruption investigation of Alaska politicians came to a close last week with the sentencing of ex-lawmakers Pete Kott and Vic Kohring, the Los Angeles Times revisited the case of former Juneau Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, whom longtime Anchorage Rep. Mike Hawker tells the Times was "less guilty than any of them" yet still hounded unmercifully by "the absolutely unbridled power of the federal government." The case ended in a guilty plea on minor misdemeanor involving unregistered lobbyists, a charge dredged out of state statutes by a defense attorney when federal prosecutors could find no federal statute on which to base a plea bargain.
The saga didn't end, though, until after Weyhrauch had mortgaged his house, cashed out his retirement, and appealed to his supporters to pay an estimated $500,000 in legal fees. The former Eagle Scout went from being a popular lawyer who originally came to Alaska to work in a salmon hatchery, to someone people in Juneau would cross the street to avoid.
Weyhrauch wasn't completely beyond reproach, his lawyers admit. The then-lawmaker was in the thick of things during the oil tax bill negotiations that were at the center of the corruption case, talking with Bill Allen, president of Veco Corp., the oil services company at the center of the probe. He exercised poor judgment in sending Veco a letter soliciting legal business right at the time the company was pushing the tax bill, while he was still in office.
But his lawyers demonstrated that this was one of two dozen identical letters Weyhrauch, who wasn't running for re-election and needed work, had sent out to many companies, not just Veco. Did he take a bribe? Nobody alleged any money had changed hands, and if it didn't, the defense counsel wanted to know, why was he indicted for bribery and extortion?
So angry is Weyhrauch over the feds' four-year attempt to hang felony corruption charges on him that he is writing a book he's calling "It Could Happen to You."
Today, Weyhrauch has the air of a haunted man. His easy smile has given way to a wary look. He tends to sit at the side of a room and listen to others talk.
"I've been in the desert," he said in his Juneau law offices not long after his misdemeanor plea. He received a three-month suspended sentence and a $1,000 fine, but was allowed to keep his law license.
"I'd love to sit on a mountain and try to understand. People say, 'Why me?' when they get cancer. Why me, when I get prosecuted? I'm supposed to know this guy Bill Allen is corrupt? I was as shocked as anyone else to see all that stuff that was going on."