Ex-Alaska lawmaker wants conviction dismissed

AP News
Posted: Nov 18, 2009 11:21 AM

A lawyer for a former state lawmaker argued Tuesday that his client's corruption conviction should be thrown out because the same federal prosecutors in former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens' case withheld evidence in his trial.

Pete Kott said after the hearing in federal court it was hard to understand why prosecutors withheld evidence that was favorable to him and should have been provided.

"They obviously didn't play fair," he said.

Kott, an Eagle River Republican who served seven terms in Juneau, was convicted in 2007 of accepting bribes to push legislation favorable to the oil industry. He was found guilty of conspiracy, bribery, and extortion and sentenced to six years in federal prison.

Kott is challenging his convictions because the same team of prosecutors handled a related case against Stevens, an Alaska Republican. Stevens' conviction for failing to disclose gifts was thrown out because evidence was withheld, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder then ordered a review of the Alaska corruption cases.

Kott and former Rep. Vic Kohring, also convicted of accepting bribes, have been free pending the completion of the review of government lawyers' handling of their cases. Kott was released from prison in June when prosecutors acknowledged they failed to turn over favorable evidence to the defense.

Their convictions resulted from a lengthy investigation by prosecutors and the FBI of corruption in the Alaska Legislature. The federal probe focused on officials at VECO Corp., a now-defunct oil field services company that did millions of dollars in contracting work for oil producers.

VECO's chairman, Bill Allen, was a wealthy political operative who raised thousands of dollars for candidates who favored his pro-development agenda.

The Justice Department has maintained that no harm was done in withholding evidence. Judge John Sedwick is reviewing the case and 4,700 pages of government documents. He has several options, including letting the convictions stand, dismissing them and ordering a new trial or dismissing them and barring a new trial. He didn't indicate when a ruling might come.

Sheryl Gordon McCloud, Kott's attorney, told the judge that government prosecutors acted in bad faith by arguing facts that they knew were not true. She said new documents shed light on several issues that helped convict Kott, including a payment of more than $7,000 for flooring and a $5,000 down payment on a truck from Allen.

The documents also show that Kott wouldn't accept the truck as a gift because "he was too proud," McCloud said. Evidence now shows Allen considered the flooring money a "bonus" because Kott had worked very hard on a remodeling project, she added.

"I think the court should reverse the convictions," McCloud said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney James M. Trusty acknowledged that mistakes were made but asserted they didn't warrant a dismissal of the convictions.

"There are some materials that should have been turned over," Trusty said.

He rejected assertions that prosecutors had acted in bad faith. He encouraged Sedwick to look at the strength of the government's case against Kott. Trusty also reminded the judge of the 56 tapes of recorded conversation presented at trial.

"This was a case that had overwhelming evidence," Trusty said.

At Kott and Kohring's trials, the FBI played recorded conversations in which both Allen and Rick Smith, a VECO vice president, can be heard discussing legislative strategy with Kott.

Both executives pleaded guilty to bribing lawmakers and have been sentenced.

Kott, who has a commercial flooring business, said he's busying himself with projects around the house until the review in his case is decided.

"I am kind of left in limbo status for as long as it takes to resolve this matter," he said.