Prosecutors say Tom Anderson was a debt-ridden politician who sold his office for $12,838 and knew exactly what he was doing.
The defense says the real culprit is former state corrections commissioner Frank Prewitt, who was under investigation himself and exploited Anderson to save himself. Anderson was a hard-working legislator who never took any official actions in exchange for money, said defense attorney Paul Stockler.
Jurors on Wednesday heard those contrasting views as the two sides gave opening statements in the public corruption trial of Anderson. The first witnesses will be called today.
Anderson, a two-term state representative who didn't run again in 2006, is fighting seven felony charges including bribery, extortion and money laundering.
A jury of eight women and four men, plus four alternatives, was seated Wednesday afternoon. They were picked from a pool of 102 after hours of questioning by U.S. District Judge John Sedwick and lawyers spread over three days. Some scribbled notes as the lawyers gave their opening statements.
A small crowd of spectators came to hear. A friend of Anderson's who has been collecting money for his defense sat in, but Anderson's wife, state Sen. Lesil McGuire, didn't attend.
Jurors will be asked to absorb complicated information over the next few days, prosecutor Joe Bottini told them.
Neither of the central figures in the case against Anderson -- Prewitt and former lobbyist Bill Bobrick -- are "squeaky clean witnesses," Bottini acknowledged.
Bobrick has pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in the case and has agreed to testify against Anderson. Bobrick came up with a scheme to create a phony company and use it to funnel payments from the private prison firm Cornell Cos. to Anderson, prosecutors assert. Cornell didn't know about the scheme, and after the FBI got involved it provided the payments.
The other key witness will be Prewitt, whose own flaws the prosecutor discussed at length.
Prewitt, who became a consultant to Cornell after leaving his state post, was being investigated for various actions when the FBI confronted him in April 2004, Bottini said.
He agreed to help the FBI in its "broad public corruption investigation," the prosecutor said. Anderson is one of four legislators or former legislators indicted in the past seven months.
Cornell had been trying for years to open a private prison in Alaska, and Prewitt may have tried to improperly influence a state corrections official regarding it, the prosecutor said.
He also was being investigated for a practice in political campaigns known as "conduit contributions" in which someone gives money to other people to pass on to candidates. That is done to bypass campaign contribution limits. Bobrick also was involved in "conduit contributions," Bottini said.
In addition, while Prewitt was state corrections commissioner, he accepted $30,000 from a friend who had business with the department, Bottini said.
The government has no deal with Prewitt that he won't be charged with any crime in exchange for his help, but certainly he's hoping for a break, the prosecutor said.
At any rate, the government mainly will rely on conversations secretly recorded by Prewitt and will play a string of them for jurors, Bottini said.
The prosecution case "is primarily based on the words and actions of Tom Anderson," Bottini said.
'OUR BOY IN JUNEAU'
In early July 2004, Prewitt heard from Bobrick that Anderson was deeply in debt and needed to find work, the prosecutor said. At a July 21, 2004, lunch at the Southside Bistro in Anchorage, Bobrick told Prewitt that Anderson would be "our boy in Juneau." A week later, Anderson told them that he could get on the right legislative committees for Cornell's interests. He had meetings with a corrections commissioner, testified at a public hearing in support of a Cornell project and took other official actions, Bottini said.
Bobrick told Prewitt that with Anderson, he actually would get two legislators, the government says. At the time, Anderson was dating then-Rep. McGuire, Bottini said. They since married. There's no evidence that McGuire knew about the scheme with Cornell, but once she did push the corporation's interests for Anderson, the prosecutor said.
'TRUE BLUE' LEGISLATOR
Stockler, Anderson's attorney, asked jurors to keep an open mind. The government just wants to play snippets of conversations that don't give the whole picture, he said.
Bobrick and Prewitt were both friends and mentors to Anderson, Stockler said, and "he was eager to please."
Anderson was a young man with children, a legislator who made just $24,000 a year, a "guy who was broke," Stockler said.
Once Prewitt knew he was in trouble with the FBI, he sought to exploit Anderson's situation, the defense lawyer said. Anderson never changed a vote or a position on an issue, and it was Prewitt, not Anderson, who kept talking about money, Stockler said.
"He stays true blue to what he always had done in the Legislature," Stockler said.
Jurors can expect to hear more about Anderson's financial state during the trial. Sedwick ruled Wednesday that the material was relevant. Stockler had argued it wasn't.
"Given the relatively small amount that Anderson allegedly received in exchange for compromising the integrity of his office, the government's theory is more believable if defendant was facing serious financial difficulties," the judge wrote in his order.
An official with the Alaska Public Offices Commission likely will testify first today and prosecutors then intend to call Prewitt to the stand.
By LISA DEMER