After nearly two years, PFD fraud charges against former Alaska fisheries board nominee are still pending. Why?

JUNEAU — The case against Roland Maw, the commercial fisheries advocate once nominated to the Alaska fisheries board by Gov. Bill Walker, wrapped up last December.

That's when a District Court judge affirmed an order barring Maw from hunting and fishing for 18 months, and a $7,200 fine against him, for seven misdemeanor charges of getting resident hunting and fishing licenses when he wasn't actually a resident.

That ruling, however, came in Montana.

In Alaska, a second, more serious case against Maw, charging him with Permanent Fund dividend fraud, has moved more slowly. Slowly enough that critics are starting to ask why the prosecution of one of Walker's political allies hasn't moved faster.

One sport fishing and dipnetting booster, who's battled Maw's former organization as part of the state's perennial fish allocation wars, said the delays appear to fit a pattern of Walker's administration favoring commercial fisheries, and Maw in particular.

"How many people with 12 felony counts have meetings with high-level administration officials, all the way to the governor?" asked Bill Stoltze, the former Republican state senator from Chugiak who's criticized Walker's fish policies. He added: "I guess he's a golden child over there."

State attorneys say the case against Maw is proceeding at a normal pace.

"Politics does not and will not enter into the equation," Cori Mills, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Law, wrote in an email. "This case will be decided based on the facts and evidence."

Nearly three years since questions were first raised about Maw's claims of Alaska residency, though, prosecutors are still struggling to advance their case here, which alleges he claimed six years of Permanent Fund dividends to which he wasn't entitled.

[Related: Ex-fish board appointee Maw charged in Juneau court over PFD, fish permit applications]

Those dividends add up to nearly $7,500.

Maw was first charged with 17 counts of theft and unsworn falsification — 12 of them felonies — in January 2016. The state's charges — in addition to PFD fraud — also say Maw illegally claimed residency in commercial fishing permit applications.

The felony indictment against him was dismissed a year later.

After the state re-filed the charges, Maw's trial was scheduled to start this month. But on Nov. 6, his attorney asked for another delay and filed a new request to dismiss the second indictment against him.

The trial is now scheduled to start in January. But it could be delayed further if the judge in the case, Louis Menendez, sides with Maw's attorney and tosses the indictment again.

The setbacks have prompted questions from Walker's critics, and from critics of Maw, who used to run a Kenai Peninsula commercial fishing group, the United Cook Inlet Drift Association.

Even by the cutthroat standards of Alaska fish politics, Maw was a polarizing figure, with his organization pushing for aggressive policies to place sharp limits on dipnetters while benefiting commercial fishermen.

And sport fishing boosters are asking why Maw's case hasn't moved more quickly — particularly given his affiliation with Walker, who Maw supported during the 2014 gubernatorial campaign. Stoltze, the former senator, said he has confidence in state prosecutors, but added that he's heard from others about the delays in the case.

"I can tell you, I've had people say, 'Is Roland Maw getting special treatment?'" Stoltze said in a phone interview.

The state attorney prosecuting Maw, Lisa Kelley, declined to be interviewed. But Mills, the Alaska Department of Law spokeswoman, wrote in an email that the delays in the prosecution are "fairly routine" and logistical — not political.

The case is a complex one; it's also involved dueling, time-consuming motions and Maw himself has pushed for delays, Mills said.

"We have been and continue to put in the resources necessary to pursue this case," she wrote.

Maw, reached by phone, declined to comment.

His Juneau-based attorney, Nick Polasky, said he and Maw are fighting the charges through the legal system.

"We're focused on addressing the case through the courts because that's where the dispute is located," Polasky said in a phone interview. "And we know that the prosecution is autonomous from the governor's office."

Polasky said he didn't see the pace as unusually slow — especially since the dismissal of the first indictment, in January, essentially restarted the case at "day one," he added.

Maw, 74, was an ally of Walker's when Walker was trying to unseat incumbent Republican Gov. Sean Parnell in 2014, and Maw remains politically active now.

When UCIDA, the organization he used to lead, met with Walker in October, Maw attended, although a spokesman for the governor, Jonathon Taylor, said Maw wasn't originally on a list of people expected to attend the meeting.

"Nothing about his prosecution was discussed," Taylor wrote in an email. "The governor has in no way been involved in the prosecution and leaves that in the capable hands of the Department of Law."

In the leadup to the 2014 election, over the course of several months, Maw gave Walker's campaign $750 in cash and "fundraising refreshments," according to state campaign finance records.

After Walker was elected, Maw applied to be the commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game. But at a January, 2015 meeting, the state fish board — which, along with the game board, holds authority under state law to vet applicants — refused to grant Maw an interview.

Karl Johnstone, who was then the fish board's chair, later wrote in an opinion piece that Maw had an antagonistic relationship with the board, having accused it of being "broken or corrupt."

A week later, Walker called Johnstone and told him he wouldn't be reappointed when his term expired six months later — in part because of the fish board's decision to spurn Maw.

Johnstone then offered to resign a week later, and Walker replaced him with Maw.

[Related: Fish board chairman Johnstone resigns; commercial fisherman Maw picked to replace him]

A spokeswoman for Walker, at the time, described Maw as qualified for the job because of his intelligence and education; Maw, on his resume, said he has a doctorate in forestry and wildlife management.

But as he worked his way through the legislative confirmation process, commercial fisheries critics began raising questions about Maw's residency.

In a 2015 interview with Alaska Dispatch News, Maw acknowledged owning a home in Montana with his wife, who lives there for health reasons, he said.

But Maw said he'd lived in Alaska and qualified for PFDs since he retired around 2000.

A month after his appointment, to the fish board, however, Maw stepped down with a terse, handwritten note that provided no explanation.

A few days later, Montana law enforcement officials said they'd opened a criminal investigation connected to Maw, and he ultimately pleaded no contest to seven counts of buying resident licenses as a nonresident.

Maw subsequently appealed the lower-court judgment against him, saying prosecutors failed to turn over relevant evidence. But a judge rejected that effort in December 2016.

It took much longer for Alaska prosecutors to bring their case against Maw: He wasn't charged here until January 2016, or nearly a year after he was charged in Montana.

A year after the Alaska charges were filed, Menendez, the Juneau judge, dismissed the felony counts after a request by Maw's attorney. Nearly all the evidence that state prosecutors used to get a grand jury indictment against Maw, Menendez wrote in an eight-page order, "did not comply with Alaska law."

Documents presented to the grand were not properly verified, and the sole witness before the grand jury, a PFD investigator, wasn't qualified to introduce them, Menendez said.

"Much more is required when so much is at stake, when nearly an entire case is based solely on hundreds of pages of dated documents, assembled by others, and later used to subject a citizen to multiple felony convictions and a loss of freedom," Menendez wrote.

Two weeks later, the state resurrected all 12 felony counts against Maw.

But earlier this month, Polasky, Maw's defense attorney, asked Menendez to dismiss them again, saying prosecutors still hadn't introduced sufficient evidence.

Polasky wrote that the state still hasn't shown that it was Maw himself who filed the online PFD applications made under his name, nor demonstrated that Maw was actually ineligible to receive them.

In fact, at one point in the grand jury proceedings, the prosecutor — in asserting that Maw lied when filling out his PFD application — acknowledged that "we don't know" if Maw would have qualified for a dividend if he was truthful, Polasky wrote.

Nowhere in Polasky's 18-page brief does he assert that someone else filed the applications that bore Maw's name, or that Maw was, in fact, legally eligible to receive the payments.

But, Polasky argued, the burden of proof is not on Maw — instead, he said, it's on the state.

The new argument suggests there are still "serious issues" with the case, said Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski, a sport fishing booster.

Wielechowski, an attorney, said he didn't see any evidence of political interference; Kelley, the state prosecutor, is a respected attorney, he added.

More likely, Wielechowski said, is that the state doesn't typically have to contend with such a vigorous defense in PFD fraud cases.

But the handling of Maw's case is still frustrating, Wielechowski said, adding that the state mishandled simple things that should have been "prosecutorial 101."

"I think there's plenty of evidence to prosecute the guy — they just haven't gotten their ducks in a row yet," Wielechowski said.

Nathaniel Herz

Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He’s been a reporter in Alaska for nearly a decade, with stints at ADN and Alaska Public Media. He’s reported around the state and loves cross-country skiing.