Kott says he'll plead guilty to federal bribery charge

Richard Mauer

Former House Speaker Pete Kott said Thursday that he plans to plead guilty to a single federal charge of bribery, a move that would end proceedings in a case that began with a four-count indictment in 2007.

Kott's notice of his intent to change his plea was contained in a one-sentence filing in U.S. District Court. If the deal goes through, Kott will avoid a retrial in Fairbanks in December on the bribery charge along with one count each of extortion and conspiracy.

The charges relate to Kott's relationship with the defunct oil field service company Veco and two of its executives, Bill Allen and Rick Smith.

In 2006, Allen and Smith sought legislation that would lower oil taxes in hopes that the industry would construct a gas pipeline -- and send billions of dollars in contracts to Veco. The Veco officials had no idea during that legislative session that their conspiracies to bribe legislators -- and some of the actual payments -- were being secretly recorded by a hidden camera in their Juneau hotel suite and by FBI wiretaps on their phones.

In one damning recording played at Kott's 2007 trial, Allen told Kott, "I own your ass."

In that same passage, Kott told Allen he had managed to kill an amendment that would have raised oil taxes above the line that Allen thought acceptable.

"I had to get 'er done," Kott said in Veco's now infamous Suite 604 in the Baranof Hotel. "I had to cheat, steal, beg, borrow and lie."

In arguing for a harsh sentence after Kott's 2007 conviction, prosecutors described him as "a critical organizer and manager within the larger conspiracy."

Citing a recorded phone conversation of Allen's, the prosecutors said: "Allen made clear that he was using Kott in the Alaska State House and then-State Sen. Ben Stevens in the Alaska State Senate to "kill" unfavorable (oil tax) legislation to benefit Veco and the oil producers. Allen also testified at trial and stated in multiple intercepted conversations introduced at trial that Kott and Stevens were the two state legislators he trusted the most and that Kott was the legislator Allen relied upon in the Alaska State House to accomplish his and Veco's objectives."

Stevens, the former Senate president and son of former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, was told in August by Justice Department officials in Washington that the long-running investigation of him would conclude without charges.

After seeing the weight of the evidence against them, Allen and Smith agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with federal authorities. Their testimony was crucial in convicting Kott and another legislator facing a retrial, former Rep. Vic Kohring of Wasilla. Kohring's retrial is set for Oct. 31 in Fairbanks.

There was no indication in Thursday's filing that federal prosecutors and Kott had negotiated a plea deal, but a notice of intent to plead guilty is usually the first step in unveiling a plea agreement.

Kott's filing appeared to catch U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline by surprise -- 45 minutes after Kott gave notice of his plea change, Beistline posted a decision denying a pretrial motion of Kott's that sought more details about his charges.

In his original trial, an Anchorage jury found Kott guilty of bribery, conspiracy and extortion. Kott was sentenced to six years in prison and fined $10,000. But two years later, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the charges because prosecutors had failed to turn over favorable evidence to Kott's original legal team. Kott was freed from prison in 2009 pending his new trial.

The bribery charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Unless there's a specific sentencing recommendation in a plea deal, Kott is likely to ask Beistline to sentence him to time already served so that he doesn't have to return to prison.

Kott was elected to the House seven times from Eagle River as a Republican.

Kevin Feldis, the assistant U.S. attorney leading Kott's new prosecution, said he couldn't comment on Kott's filings. Kott's two appointed Seattle attorneys didn't return messages left at their offices.

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