Editor's note: A version of the following commentary was first featured in Make-A-Scene, a monthly community publication serving readers in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. It is the seventh installment in a series through which Mr. Kohring intends to tell his own side of the federal probe of public corruption in Alaska.
The actions of government prosecutors, who we now know cheated in falsely convicting Sen. Ted Sevens and myself by deliberately concealing crucial evidence outlined in an investigator's report, is being referred to as "gross prosecutorial misconduct." With my case, 6,500-plus pages of evidence were kept hidden in file cabinets, a stack of documents 2-1/2 feet high (compared with Stevens' dozen pages, enough to fill one file folder). I've heard more were likely destroyed, probably shredded or burned. You may ask ... Of this material, what's the most grievous and what specifically would have vindicated me? Most are surprised not only at the sheer volume of material, but its content.
Many also can't imagine why prosecutors acted as they did. Unbelievably, prosecutors still claim innocence and that "none of the evidence would have affected the outcome of the case," regardless of its significance. They just don't get it. Or don't want to. Even when caught red-handed, these guys still refuse to come clean and continue to fall all over themselves with excuses to cover up their shadiness.
Below is a list of crucial items of evidence concealed by the prosecution. There's much more, but these are the most significant. One or two things would be enough to overturn a case. Yet there are 15 here including some real "smoking guns" by the government. Remember, I was completely unaware during my trial that any of this existed. If I was, I could have used it in my defense and very likely would not have suffered a conviction and imprisonment. Worse, the jury -- the very individuals who held my fate in their hands -- wasn't aware of this hidden evidence either. Yet I still came a whisker from winning because the government's arguments were so weak. Several jurors were in tears as the "guilty" verdicts were read, sensing the whole thing was a sham, but didn't have the evidence to back up their intuition.
The quoted passages below are the actual, verbatim notes from FBI agents and prosecutors as part of the evidence they concealed until they were forced to turn it over -- but that didn't occur until after my trial and conviction.
1. Veco CEO Bill Allen, the government's star witness, admitted privately in FBI interviews that he "Never asked Vic to do anything in exchange for cash or some benefit." Once this evidence came out, my case should have been immediately dismissed. You can't find a more obvious 'smoking gun' for mistakes by the prosecution.
2. Allen admitted privately that he "Never gave (Vic) money for a legislative act." Another prosecutor smoking gun.
3. In a meeting between FBI agents and prosecutors concerning my association with Allen, notes reveal "...no intent to do anything wrong." A crime is supposed to be based on one's intent. If I had no intent to do wrong, there's no crime.
4. Allen stated in private that his gift money was for friendship, not a bribe. Notes state that, "All $ payments given to (Pete Kott and Vic Kohring) for friendship."
5. A meeting involving the FBI, prosecutors and Allen's attorney revealed notes by Allen's lawyer stating, "Big problem! (Allen) gave stuff to (Vic) because he is a friend," contradicting the prosecution's claims that Allen and I were not friends and that his gifts were instead intended as bribes.
6. The concealed evidence was full of references to a legitimate friendship between Allen and myself, confirming his gifts were not a bribe. Phrases such as "cultivated a friendship," "very close to," "was a friend," "friendly relationship," and "were friendly" are found throughout. Yet the prosecutors argued deceptively that we weren't friends.
7. Allen strongly objected during FBI interrogations when they repeatedly used the word "payment" to describe gift money he gave me. Private notes state, "(Allen) chafed at the term 'payment.' " The prosecution attempted to drill into Allen's head that his gifts represented a bribe "payment."
8. The FBI manipulated yet another key witness -- Veco Vice President Rick Smith -- by trying to "strengthen" his opinions (their word), since Smith did not dispute Allen's private admissions that his gifts were not a bribe. Notes reveal, "Need to strengthen (Smith's) response RE: Bribes V. Gifts."
9. Frank Prewitt, ex-commissioner of the Department of Corrections, a primary witness who collaborated as the prosecutor's 'snitch' (trying unsuccessfully to trick me into saying something on a hidden video the government could use to implicate me), was portrayed by the prosecution as a legitimate, credible witness, knowledgeable about my case and therefore someone the jury should view with credence. Prewitt once invited me to dinner, pretending to be my friend. But he secretly wore a "button camera" in an attempt to deceitfully implicate me with pre-prepared FBI questions designed to draw me into incriminating myself (which I didn't do). Prewitt later testified against me anyway. I then discovered in the hidden evidence where he informed the FBI in private that he was convinced I was "Not corrupt."
10. Prewitt was bought off by the government for $200,000.00 within 48 hours of his derogatory testimony as payment for his "good work," in falsely convicting me. This is a man who attended my church and was supposedly a long-time friend. But when the government dangled a couple hundred grand in front of his nose, he betrayed me as all morals flew out the window. Money was way more important, even it if meant falsely convicting a man and sending him to prison. I wonder if his conscience grates on him. It should.
11. Throughout the concealed evidence, Allen is shown admitting to prosecutors that my mantra of "What can I do to help?," "Feel free to call me anytime," etc., were words I "always" said to him -- out of friendship, not as a bribe. Therefore, there was no "quid-pro-quo." FBI notes also reveal that Allen referred to my frequent, friendly remarks as a "signature sign off," yet the prosecution argued the opposite at trial that they represented bribery.
12. Allen admitted in private that gift money he gave me would have no effect on "PPT," the oil tax reform legislation he supported--the opposite of the government's arguments. FBI notes reveal Allen explaining, "(Kohring and Kott) wouldn't have voted differently." Therefore, Allen's gifts were not connected to his interest in seeing PPT pass.
13. Lead FBI Agent Mary Beth Kepner attempted to manipulate Allen's thinking in an interview between the two concerning our friendship. For example, during one private interview, Allen said I was a "pretty good guy." The agent immediately countered with, "Don't have the same opinion." They attempted to shade Allen's view of me and shape his opinion the way they wanted, so Allen would go on the stand with a negative attitude toward me. Almost as if hypnotized.
14. Allen admitted privately that his motivation to give me gifts was because he felt sorry for me as a friend. (I was being super frugal by sleeping on my couch, making meals in my office, etc.) Notes reveal his motivation was to "Help Kohring for whom he felt sorry" -- in stark contrast to his witness stand testimony that his motivation was to bribe me.
15. Smith admitted privately that I was "not beholden" to Allen for any gift money received. Yet at trial, he too claimed the opposite -- that I was bribed.
Of course in addition to the above examples of hidden evidence were my taped words (verbatim) directly related to the government's charges against me including, “I would make sure that everything was done in accordance to the law” (referring to a possible financial benefit from Allen, such as employment), “I don’t want any freebie from you (referring to Allen)," I wish "to make sure we’re not violating any law” and “I want it to be above board.” Not the words of a criminal.
I get nauseous thinking about lead prosecutor Joseph Bottini (the same prosecutor in Ted Stevens' case, who was found by investigation of engaging in "systematic concealment" of evidence) standing before the jury with a straight face as he demonized me, accusing me of being corrupt -- while at the same time knowingly concealing compelling evidence. This is the same guy who became red-faced before the grand jury as he manipulated and twisted facts to secure an indictment. The prosecutors and their FBI agent pals must be schooled in successful techniques of lying. As they spun their web of lies, reporters gleefully and dutifully scribbled notes portraying me as an abominable criminal. The prosecutors presented themselves as respectable public servants, but in reality were crooked as snakes as the investigation shows, with lots of snide looks outside the courtroom.
Normally, you'd expect a judge to express outrage over such prosecutorial misconduct, especially when a defendant is denied justice so grievously. But Judge Sedwick didn't speak a word. Not a hint of anger or concern. It's easy to see why as he became consumed by his personal vendetta over political battles I fought with his wife, including her job loss from my legislation. The guy was so exasperated and angry with me, he couldn't see straight. He not only refused to step down over his blatant conflict of interest and give the case to another judge, but refused to dismiss it despite thousands of pages of concealed evidence dumped in his lap. He was essentially an accomplice to the prosecutor's misconduct, while hiding behind the government's skirt. It took the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to do the job Sedwick should have done when they overruled his decision to reject my motion and dismiss the case (as occurred with Stevens) over misconduct so obvious it practically whacked him on the back side. His declared reasons were flimsy in a feeble attempt to justify his decision, almost laughable. But there was no laughing going on as my life was at stake while the target of his wrath. Sedwick's actions were a miscarriage of justice and just as bad -- if not worse -- as the prosecution's reprehensible deeds.
Much of the press enjoys reporting on "corruption" among politicians to sell papers and bolster ratings. But they also have a duty to expose corruption in our judiciary and stop acting as if judges and prosecutors can do no wrong. It's time to dispense with the double-standard.
Vic Kohring represented Wasilla, Chugiak and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley in the Alaska House of Representatives. He was first elected in 1994 and resigned in 2007.
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