Former state Rep. Beverly Masek completed her bargain with federal prosecutors Thursday, pleading guilty to a conspiracy in which she accepted a bribe to kill a bill that would have raised oil production taxes.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline set sentencing for May 28. Masek, not considered a flight risk, was allowed to remain free on a $5,000 unsecured bond. She surrendered her expired passport.
Under her plea deal with the government, which is not binding on Beistline, Masek faces 18 to 24 months in prison and a fine ranging from $4,000 to $40,000. The maximum penalty for bribery conspiracy is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Masek, 45 and unemployed, was flanked for the 29-minute hearing by an attorney and an investigator from the Federal Public Defender Agency. Other than to answer questions from the judge, she made no statement and wouldn't say anything to reporters as she left the federal courthouse in Anchorage. She didn't acknowledge anybody among the dozens of courtroom spectators.
A Republican, Masek lives in Willow and represented a portion of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough from her first election in 1994 until her defeat in the 2004 primary. She was the 11th person, and the first woman, to be convicted in the long-running federal corruption investigation in Alaska, which is continuing. The trial of another legislator is pending.
Masek said she is divorced and the mother of a 23-year-old son. Her highest level of education was a degree from the high school in the Yukon River village of Anvik.
She was charged with soliciting a cash payment of at least $2,000 from Bill Allen, the chief executive of Veco Corp., while the Legislature was in session in 2003. She took another $2,000 from Allen a few weeks later as payment for spiking a measure that would have raised oil taxes, prosecutors charged.
"You understand the nature of the charge?" Beistline asked her.
"Yes, I do," she said, her voice loud and quivering slightly.
"You're ready to plead guilty and accept the consequences?" Beistline asked.
"Yes, your honor," she said.
Masek spared the judge the long, routine reading of her rights, saying she heard it all from her attorney. But she was required to listen to one of the prosecutors, Edward Sullivan of the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section, provide the details of the case against her:
April 16, 2003: Masek sends an aide to find Veco vice president Rick Smith so she could complain about her financial situation.
April 18, 2003: Masek receives "several thousand dollars" cash from a relative of Allen. She deposits $2,000 in her bank account.
May 6, 2003: Masek introduces a bill to eliminate the Economic Limit Factor, a tax break for North Slope producers passed in 1981.
May 7, 2003: Allen pays Masek a visit in Juneau and says her bill would harm his big-oil clients. Masek withdraws her bill.
May 8, 2003: Allen gives Masek another $2,000 in cash, in part for spiking the bill.
May to July 2003: Masek continues to ask Allen and Smith for help, but no more big cash payments are forthcoming.
As Sullivan spoke, Masek kept her head turned away from him and the spectators behind him, looking in the direction of the judge.
"Is it all true, or untrue?" Beistline asked her when Sullivan had finished.
"It's true," she said. "I plead guilty, your honor."
In Juneau on Thursday, the events in the Anchorage courtroom finally brought some clarity to a situation that Rep. Les Gara could never understand.
Gara, an Anchorage Democrat who wanted to raise oil taxes, said the one-day life of House Bill 300 has always been a mystery.
In 2003, Gara said, he had been trying to build support to get rid of the ELF. He talked to sympathetic legislators, but Masek was not among them.
"People were warning me that the oil companies would come after me like a ton of bricks," Gara said, explaining that he worked slowly and deliberately to make sure he had his facts and concepts right. Masek came out of nowhere.
"It was jaw-dropping when she filed that bill," Gara said. "Here comes a conservative Republican filing an oil-tax bill. It shocked me. Most of her caucus was dead set against oil-tax reform."
Gara remembers her bill as being short and simple, repealing pages and pages of the 1981 ELF legislation in just a few paragraphs.
"For a day, I thought she did the most daring thing in the world, and the next day it was withdrawn," Gara said. "So two days in a row something jaw-dropping happened."
Gara said he assumed the House leadership, in particular Speaker Pete Kott, had gotten to her (Kott was convicted in 2007 of extortion and accepting bribes from Veco).
"I thought she did a brave thing and must have gotten yelled at and pressured to withdraw the bill," Gara said. "Never in a million years would I have thought she made 4,000 bucks."
Gara said he now suspects Masek introduced the bill just to get Allen's attention -- and his wallet opened.
Find Richard Mauer online at adn.com/contact/rmauer or call 257-4345.
By RICHARD MAUER