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Judge shows leniency in Masek sentence for corruption

Richard Mauer
Rep. Beverly Masek and Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage, announce a 1998 lawsuit seeking to block a federal takeover of subsistence fishing.
BILL ROTH / Daily News archive 1998
Beverly Masek leaves federal court Thursday flanked by her nieces Brandi Walker-Jones, left, and Crystal Walton.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News

Former state Rep. Beverly Masek was sentenced to six months in federal prison Thursday on corruption charges, a lenient punishment that sliced a year from the minimum confinement recommended by federal guidelines.

In handing down the sentence, U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline said Masek betrayed the public trust and the oath of office she took five times in Juneau -- once for each of the two-year terms she served representing the Willow area in the Legislature as a Republican.

Masek admitted to a felony charge of conspiracy to commit bribery by taking two illegal payments in 2003 of $2,000 each from former Veco Corp. chief executive Bill Allen. The second payment was a gift for spiking an oil-tax bill that Allen, an oil-field contractor, was concerned would hurt his clients.

In dealing her a sentence substantially below the 18- to 24-month recommendation in federal guidelines, Beistline cited the long delay between the commission of the crime and its prosecution by federal authorities, who didn't charge Masek until March. He also said he believed she had a good opportunity to rehabilitate herself, especially if she can control her alcohol dependency.

Masek, a former Iditarod musher, cried throughout the 80-minute hearing, including when she promised to obtain sobriety treatment after her prison sentence.

"I feel I've been operating on a broken sled runner," Masek said, recalling her days as a dog musher. "I feel I've been on that broken sled runner for quite a while. I'd really like to fix it."

Beistline said Masek would have to serve three years' probation after her prison time, during which she would be barred from consuming any alcohol or even entering a bar, nightclub or other place alcohol was served other than a "bona fide restaurant." The judge said federal probation officials could order Masek to enter a residential treatment facility for alcohol addiction for up to six months after prison as long as the facility was culturally sensitive for Alaska Natives.

Beistline said Masek was too broke to also be fined.

Masek's attorney, public defender Rich Curtner, had asked for even lighter treatment than she got -- six months of home confinement, the same punishment Beistline had given former state Sen. John Cowdery. Curtner said Cowdery's crime was worse than Masek's because it was "much more sophisticated, much more far reaching than Ms. Masek's."

Cowdery pleaded guilty for conspiring with Bill Allen to get $25,000 to another state senator's campaign to buy his support for oil legislation. The deal was never consummated, and the other senator cooperated with federal authorities.

Beistline disagreed -- Masek's crime was worse, though both were bad.

"He was guilty of facilitating a meeting or two -- he never took any money," Beistline said. Masek, on the other hand, solicited cash from Bill Allen and his vice president, Rick Smith.

"You sought them out when you were sober," he said. After she got the $4,000, "you sought more." She even raised the possibility of masking Veco payments as consulting fees and discussed a complex scheme where Allen would pay to sponsor her dog kennel as a way to get money to her.

"You engaged in this clearly illegal conduct," Beistline said.

Masek said she has "hurt, embarrassed and humiliated" herself and let her friends down.

"I know I have done things I should not have done. I know I need help. I'm ready to get back on track and get off this cliff that I fell off of," she said.

In a sentencing memo filed on behalf of Masek, Curtner said Masek accepted responsibility for her actions, but also blamed her ex-husband for being controlling and abusive and the environment in Juneau for depressing and confusing her.

Jan Masek, now an entrepreneur living in Panama, where his and Beverly's son Michael also lives, said the main thing he tried to control was the presence of alcohol in the family home. In an e-mail Thursday, he said that he would allow none. He denied being abusive.

"All my life I never put (a) hand on Bev, even when she got drunk," Jan Masek said. "I think this is (a) great insult."

"She start drinking in Juneau, with nice Republican rednecks," he added.

Beistline, from the bench, acknowledged that Masek may have been a "pawn in the hands of several legislators (and) her husband," but it didn't excuse her conduct. He said the idea that a legislator incapable of acting on her own and frequently drunk was "kind of scary, when you think about it."

Beistline said he was hopeful Masek could conquer her alcohol problems and become a useful member of society. But he also expressed skepticism because she hadn't gotten treatment despite her heavy drinking over the last decade and a driving while intoxicated charge. Under court supervision since her guilty plea in March, she's still been drinking to excess, the judge said.

"Up until two weeks ago you were disrupting the neighborhood with your drunken tirades," Beistline said.

Masek asked that she be allowed to serve her prison sentence in Alaska so she could be close to friends. But Beistline said prison wasn't supposed to be "fun," and besides, he added, there's no federal facility in the state. He allowed her to remain free on bond until a minimum-security prison slot was available, and said she could either report on her own, or if she couldn't afford the airfare, be transported to prison by the U.S. Marshals Service.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons in Washington, D.C., said a spot is usually found for a convict within 48 hours of the agency receiving case documentation from the district court and the local pretrial services office.

Masek was the sixth state lawmaker and 12th person overall charged in the wide-ranging FBI investigation of corruption in Alaska politics. The investigation, while still ongoing, has been on hold while the Justice Department and a special prosecutor in Washington investigates the conduct of prosecutors and the FBI as a result of the collapse of its biggest case, the corruption trial of former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.

Though a jury found Stevens guilty, the government agreed to dismiss all charges because prosecutors failed to turn over favorable evidence to Stevens' attorneys. Two Alaska lawmakers were released from prison on similar issues in June while a judge decides whether their trials were unfair, and if so, if they should be tried again or have their charges dismissed.

Find Richard Mauer online at adn.com/contact/rmauer or call 257-4345.

More on Alaska political corruption
By RICHARD MAUER
rmauer@adn.com