A Juneau judge has dismissed a second batch of felony Permanent Fund dividend fraud charges against Roland Maw, a former appointee of Gov. Bill Walker's to the Alaska Board of Fisheries.
State prosecutors said they will seek another indictment against Maw and vowed that the case will ultimately move forward.
But the dismissal earlier this month by Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez is the latest setback for prosecutors, and introduces more delay into a high-profile case that's already lasted more than two years.
Menendez, in a 14-page order earlier this month, said Maw may or may not have committed the 12 felony counts of theft and unsworn falsification that a grand jury indicted him on last year.
But prosecutors didn't provide enough evidence to the grand jury to uphold Maw's indictment because they didn't prove he filed the disputed dividend applications that were made in his own name, and they didn't show that Maw actually got the money, Menendez added.
"The grand jurors cannot have legitimately concluded that it was Mr. Maw who filled out, filed and benefited from the PFD applications in issue," Menendez wrote. "The court has too many misgivings about the way this case was presented to the grand jurors to allow it to move forward any further."
Questions about Maw's residency first arose in early 2015, after Walker — whose gubernatorial campaign Maw supported — appointed him to the fish board. The choice immediately sparked a new battle in Alaska's long-running fish wars between commercial and sport fishermen, since Maw, before being appointed, ran a commercial fishing group on the Kenai Peninsula.
Shortly after Maw's appointment, Montana officials said they had opened a criminal investigation into his residency. That investigation was ultimately resolved when he pleaded no contest to seven misdemeanor counts of buying resident hunting and fishing licenses when he wasn't a resident.
Amid the investigation, Maw withdrew from consideration for his fisheries board seat, and a year later, Alaska prosecutors charged him with 17 counts of theft and unsworn falsification — 12 of which were felonies.
Menendez dismissed those felonies in 2017.
[Related: After nearly two years, PFD fraud charges against former Alaska fisheries board nominee are still pending. Why?]
At the time, Menendez wrote that nearly all the evidence that state prosecutors used to get a grand jury to indict Maw "did not comply with Alaska law." Prosecutors presented unverified documents to the grand jury and the sole witness wasn't qualified to introduce them, Menendez said.
The state filed a new indictment on the same charges two weeks later, in January 2017. That's the one Menendez dismissed earlier this month.
In his new order, Menendez said the state used "flimsy" evidence in a failed attempt to prove that Maw created the online account that was used to file the disputed dividend applications; it also didn't prove Maw was the person using the account when the applications were filled out, Menendez wrote.
Those problems were Menendez's basis for dismissing the felony unsworn falsification charges.
Menendez also dismissed the felony theft charges because, he wrote, prosecutors only proved that the state paid the dividends into a bank account belonging to "someone named Roland Maw" — not that the account belonged to the accused Roland Maw.
Asked what the state's next step would be, its top prosecutor, John Skidmore, responded simply: "We'll reindict."
Skidmore acknowledged that there are some elements of the case that "I think we can clean up." But he said the state has approached Maw's prosecution like most other PFD fraud cases, and had no reason to expect this one would be dismissed.
Prosecutors will indict the case one more time with "rock-solid" evidence, Skidmore said, and if it's dismissed again, they will ask a higher court to review the decision.
"I'm confident we will prevail in getting the case to a jury, or to a finality," he said in a phone interview.
The delays in advancing the charges, he added, should not hurt the state's case, since it's based on records rather than a witness' memory.
Maw's attorney, Nick Polasky, said in a phone interview that prosecutors have the advantage of being able to take different approaches to their case if one doesn't work.
"The defense has to just respond to each attempt that the government makes, and that's where we're at right now," he said. "We'll keep taking a look at each approach and seeing how the case proceeds."