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Alaska political corruption trials: Kott, Kohring back to court

  • Author: Tony Hopfinger
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published July 1, 2011

The government is still moving ahead with prosecuting former Alaska lawmakers Pete Kott and Vic Kohring for a second time, and the cases have a new judge.

On Friday, a federal judge scheduled Kohring's trial for Oct. 31 and Kott's trial for Dec. 5, estimating each trial would take no more than two weeks. Federal prosecutors said they plan to introduce FBI video surveillance and wire taps in the trials, just as they did in 2007, when juries convicted both Kott and Kohring on corruption charges for their ties to oilman Bill Allen, founder of the defunct VECO Corp.

Kott and Kohring's convictions were tossed out earlier this year after a federal appeals court found the government had withheld evidence in the original trials, including information about the allegations that Allen carried on sexually inappropriate relationships with teenage girls. Allen, through his attorney, has denied the accusations.

The appeals court left open the option of new trials, and prosecutors said Friday that they're proceeding in that direction.

Allen's past will become a hot-button issue as motions start to fly during the buildup to this fall's trials. The sexual misconduct accusations -- and how they impacted Allen's cooperation with the federal government -- will likely factor into Kott and Kohring's defense strategy as they try to undermine the Feds' case.

Allen pleaded guilty in 2007 to federal charges of bribing lawmakers and making phony campaign contributions. He is due to be released from prison later this year.

In 2007, when Kott and Kohring stood trial, Allen was a key government witness, testifying that he gave money and did favors for the lawmakers in 2006 in return for their support on pending oil tax legislation favorable to VECO's clients – Exxon Mobil, BP and ConocoPhillips.

On Friday, Michael Filipovic, Kohring's lawyer, asked federal prosecutors whether they plan to call Allen, former VECO executive Rick Smith, or FBI agent Mary Beth Kepner as witnesses in the new trials. Prosecutor Kevin Feldis said Kepner, who has come under scrutiny over missteps in the Feds' political corruption investigation, will not be called as a witness, but he didn't say whether Smith and Allen would take the stand.

New judge takes over cases

U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline has taken over the cases from federal Judge John Sedwick, who presided over the original trials. The court docket cites "calendaring concerns" for the changeup.

Sedwick, a former neighbor of Allen's, was aware of some of the evidence that called into question the oil contractor's character in September 2007, when Kott's trial unfolded. Federal and state investigators were also aware that Allen had allegedly carried on a sexual relationship with Bambi Tyree when she was 15, according to investigative reports and other documents released later during Kott's appeal.

Tyree, a convicted felon who in 2003 was wrapped up in a sex and drug ring in Anchorage, came up at the start of Kott's 2007 trial. The prosecutors and defense team met in Sedwick's chambers. They asked the judge that Tyree's relationship with Allen be kept out of the trial.

Prosecutor Jim Goeke said a reference to Tyree might have shown up in some "recordings" that were provided to Kott's lawyer as part of the discovery of evidence. Specifically, he said, there might "be a line of inquiry concerning Allen's relationship with Tyree, and the government would posit that it has no relevance to this case whatsoever."

Goeke had been involved in Tyree's sex-drug case several years earlier as a federal prosecutor, and he almost certainly knew about Tyree's alleged relationship with Allen when she was a girl. He knew what this revelation could do to the jury in the Kott case. If Allen was painted as a sex offender, his character could be tarnished in the eyes of the jury.

Although her name rang a bell, Kott's then-lead lawyer couldn't think of a reason why he'd need to bring her up during the trial. Sedwick either didn't remember Tyree or didn't see a reason to explain to Kott's lawyer who the young woman was and why her name might be important.

Sedwick granted the prosecutors' request: "The fact that he's a philanderer isn't something that one usually gets into in a criminal felony trial unless for some reason that's relevant," Sedwick said in the conference. "I don't see how it's relevant."

Nearly four years later, the question now is whether Judge Beistline will find such information relevant to Kott's and Kohring's cases. The judge said Friday that he doesn't know everything about the corruption cases, "but I read the paper."

Contact Tony Hopfinger at tony(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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