JUNEAU -- Former Alaska Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch entered a barely audible guilty plea Monday to a state charge related to lobbying, the next phase in a plea bargain in which serious federal corruption charges will be dismissed.
Weyhrauch, a Republican who represented Juneau in the Alaska House for two terms, is due to be sentenced this morning on the state charge of knowingly consorting with two unregistered lobbyists. The charge is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
In his sentencing memorandum, Weyhrauch asked that he receive a suspended imposition of sentence. That would keep him out of jail as long as he didn't get into trouble during his period of supervision.
Weyhrauch, an attorney, was indicted in 2007 on four federal felonies related to his solicitation of legal work from the defunct oil-field service company Veco Corp. while the 2006 Alaska Legislature was still in session.
Prosecutors said he failed to disclose his conflict of interest with a company that had a big stake in an oil-tax bill then in the Legislature. Weyhrauch said he had no such duty.
The unregistered lobbyists in Weyhrauch's plea are Veco chief executive Bill Allen and vice president Rick Smith, both serving time in federal prisons for bribing legislators.
His plea was to "participating in, aiding, or abetting a lobbyist engaging in activity as a lobbyist without being registered." It is likely the first time a legislator was ever charged with such a crime in Alaska, though Weyhrauch was but one of many legislators to confer and consult with Allen and Smith in 2006 and before.
Part of Weyhrauch's plea deal with the Justice Department bars the federal prosecutor in the case, serving as special counsel for the Juneau district attorney for the purpose of the plea, from making a recommendation on sentencing. Juneau District Judge Thomas Nave will only have Weyhrauch's sentencing brief.
In that brief, Weyhrauch's attorney, Doug Pope, described the federal case as a miscarriage of justice.
"Weyhrauch had never received a dime from Veco, Allen or Smith," he wrote. "Yet, from the paltry evidence, the original prosecution team was somehow able to convince a grand jury to indict Weyhrauch on four felony counts."
Pope described the original case as "pathetically weak." He said Weyhrauch and his family were dragged "through a special kind of living hell."
"Although Weyhrauch is grateful that a new team of prosecutors took a second look at the evidence in this case, the toll exacted upon them by the original prosecution team is beyond the ordinary person's imagination," Pope said.
One of the original prosecutors committed suicide. The others are under investigation by a special prosecutor appointed by the judge who dismissed the 2008 conviction of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens. The Justice Department is conducting an internal ethics probe.
The prosecutors have been accused of withholding evidence from Stevens and other defendants that would tend to exonerate them. The lead FBI agent in the investigation has also been accused of developing a personal relationship with Allen, her chief witness.
Weyhrauch admitted soliciting a job from Allen five days before the Legislature's scheduled adjournment in 2006.
"Veco was pushing gas pipeline and oil-tax legislation before the Legislature, and Allen and ... Smith were lobbying the legislature," Weyhrauch said in his sentencing brief. Over the next several days, he spoke over the phone with either Allen or Smith three times about Veco's positions on the measures.
The Legislature adjourned and was quickly called back into special session by then-Gov. Frank Murkowski to resolve the oil-tax measure. Weyhrauch continued to discuss his job prospects and oil taxes with Veco, meeting Allen and Smith in a restaurant in Anchorage on May 24, 2006, while the oil tax bill was still pending. That meeting was secretly recorded by FBI agents.
By RICHARD MAUER
Alaska Dispatch Publishing