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Former Rep. Kohring will plead guilty to federal charge

Richard Mauer

Former Rep. Vic Kohring said Monday that he will plead guilty to a federal extortion-conspiracy charge, forestalling the lone trial still pending from the huge FBI corruption investigation into Alaska politics.

In a notice filed in U.S. District Court, Kohring said he would plead guilty to the first count in his three-count indictment. That charge accuses him of a participating in a multi-year conspiracy to squeeze money out of the oil-field contractor Veco Inc. in return for special treatment on oil legislation.

The corruption investigation, begun in 2004 when a Juneau-based FBI agent got tips that private prison advocates were bribing legislators, now appears destined to go out with a whimper.

Over the course of the investigation, which surfaced in 2006 with coordinated raids on legislative offices in Anchorage, Juneau and the Mat-Su valley area, several defendants and a judge turned the tables on prosecutors and accused them of misconduct. Jury verdicts of guilty in three cases were thrown out and no charges were brought at all against other elected officials accused in documentary evidence and by witnesses of taking illegal payments.

Two of the blown cases involved Kohring and former House Speaker Pete Kott, a contemporary who last week agreed to plead guilty to bribery to also avoid an upcoming retrial.

Both are scheduled to enter their guilty pleas Friday and Kohring will also be sentenced. Prosecutors have not yet filed their sentencing recommendations.

Kohring was a Republican legislator elected seven times from Wasilla. He resigned from office in July 2007, two months after he was charged in a four-count indictment.

After viewing him on secretly recorded videos with his hand out to former Veco boss Bill Allen, a federal jury in Anchorage convicted him in 2007 of three of the four charges -- conspiracy, extortion and attempted extortion and bribery.

Kohring was famous for being broke and sleeping in his legislative office, and the tapes caught him trying to get Allen to pay off his $17,000 credit-card debt and hire his nephew. He took hundred-dollar bills that Allen peeled off a wad and begged hamburgers from him at McDonald's.

Kohring was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison and served about a year before he was freed pending a new trial. Kott served about 18 months of a six-year sentence.

Kohring's trial had been scheduled to begin in Fairbanks Oct. 31, with Bill Allen again a witness against him -- though this time Allen would've been there on furlough from a New Mexico halfway house where he's finishing a three-year sentence for bribery and tax violations. At Kohring's first trial, Allen hadn't been sentenced yet.

Kohring, in his change-of-plea filing, said he and prosecutors had agreed on a sentence but he didn't disclose what it was. The two sides have not agreed on the terms of his probation, he said.

Kott is guaranteed to get less time under his plea deal than his original sentence of six years, since the maximum sentence for bribery is five years. At the same time, it's unlikely the government would seek the maximum or that U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline would impose it on a first-time offender like Kott.

The first round of prosecutions of the Alaska cases was supervised by the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section under the Bush administration. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Anchorage, which prosecutes most federal crimes, was barred from participating, though it loaned two prosecutors to the Justice Department team.

The Justice Department refused to fulfill a Daily News Freedom of Information Act request seeking the reasons for the recusal of the U.S. Attorney's Office, though at least one potential conflict of interest was well known: During at least part of the investigation, the U.S. Attorney, Tim Burgess, was seeking appointment as a federal judge -- a nomination traditionally made by then-Sen. Ted Stevens. Stevens himself was a target of the investigation and was eventually charged and convicted in Washington, D.C., of lying on his Senate disclosures for not reporting gifts from Veco.

Stevens' conviction eventually led to the unraveling of the investigation when Attorney General Eric Holder from the incoming Obama administration admitted that evidence favorable to Stevens was withheld from the defense. The case against Stevens was dismissed.

After new trials were ordered for Kott and Kohring, the Justice Department allowed supervision of those two cases to return to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Anchorage.

While Kohring's trial had been the only one remaining on the agenda, matters are still pending. The judge who presided over the Stevens trial appointed a special prosecutor to investigate whether the Justice Department team committed criminal contempt. The special prosecutor has yet to file a public report.

The Justice Department was also conducting its own internal review. It's unknown if the investigation is still ongoing.

The Justice Department is also fighting a lawsuit from a watchdog organization in Washington seeking its investigative files on Rep. Don Young under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Justice Department says those files should remain confidential and exempt from disclosure because no charges were brought. The watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, says the public interest in Young's behavior outweighs any privacy interest he has. Both sides have been filing briefs in support of their positions.

Reach Richard Mauer at rmauer@adn.com or 257-4345.

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By RICHARD MAUER
Anchorage Daily News
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