The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Current, former Alaska lawmakers plead not guilty in natural gas pipeline bribe case

Current, former Alaska lawmakers plead not guilty in natural gas pipeline bribe case

STEVE QUINN | AP | May 5, 2007 10:22 AM EST

JUNEAU, Alaska — For several thousand dollars and other promises, an Alaska legislator and two former lawmakers threw their support behind a tax scheme and a natural gas pipeline plan that would have benefited an oil services company, prosecutors said.

The three men, Rep. Victor Kohring of Wasilla, and former state Reps. Pete Kott of Eagle River and Bruce Weyhrauch of Juneau, were arrested Friday but deny wrongdoing. The three Republicans pleaded not guilty at their arraignments.

Kohring was charged with extortion, attempted extortion, bribery and conspiracy, according to a federal grand jury indictment unsealed Friday. Kott and Weyhrauch each entered their pleas to four counts, including conspiracy to commit extortion, extortion, bribery and fraud. If convicted of all charges, each of the men could face up to 55 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Prosecutors allege the three were involved in a scheme that unfolded as lawmakers weighed a new petroleum profits tax structure and a contract for a natural gas pipeline last year.

Kott, the former House speaker, explicitly said during a teleconference with company officials that he would support the pipeline and the company's preferred version of the tax proposal if he was made warden of a prison the company was building in the Caribbean, according to the indictment.

"You'll get your gas line, the governor gets his bill, and I'll get my job in Barbados," he told company executives, the indictment states.

The tax passed, but the contract for the pipeline negotiated by former Gov. Frank Murkowski was never approved.

The indictment does not name the company, but an attorney for VECO Corp. said it was the company involved.

Kott is accused of accepting $8,993 in payments, $2,750 in polling expenses and a future contract as a lobbyist in exchange for his support of the pipeline and a tax proposal that favored the company, according to court documents.

Kohring is accused of demanding and accepting up to $2,600 in cash and a $3,000 job for a relative from VECO executives in exchange for his support. The indictment also alleges Kohring sought but did not receive a $17,000 loan for credit card debt.

Weyhrauch, a 54-year-old attorney, is charged with helping advance the oil service company's causes in exchange for the promise of legal work in the future for the company, the indictment said.

News of the indictments sent a shock wave throughout the state's capital, where lawmakers were 12 days from adjourning this legislative session.

"If these charges are found to be true, that brings a sense of betrayal to the public trust, the ethical trust of the legislator's title and to our system of government," said House Speaker John Harris.

FBI spokesman Eric Gonzalez said the arrests stemmed from an investigation that led federal agents to last summer raid the offices of at least six lawmakers, including Kohring, Kott and Weyhrauch, in a search of ties to VECO.

Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher said the indictments show that lawmakers "sold their offices."

"There is no room for bribery and extortion at any level of government federal, state or local," Fisher said in a prepared statement. "We will work hard to bring to justice elected officials who betray their duty to their constituents."

Amy Menard, an attorney representing VECO in the investigation, told The Associated Press that the Anchorage-based corporation has turned over more than 100,000 pages of documents to the government.

"VECO has been cooperating since day one, since it learned of the investigation. The government has indicated to the company that it is satisfied with the cooperation and is looking forward to continued cooperation," she said.

Weyhrauch's attorney Doug Pope and Kott's attorney James Wendt declined to comment on the case.

John Henry Browne, an attorney for Kohring, said the lawmaker plans to fight the charges.

"He has a good deal of faith in the system," Browne said.

A combined trial for Kott and Weyhrauch was set for July 9 in Anchorage. A trial date was not set for Kohring.

All were to be released Friday on $20,000 bonds.


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