|John Henry Browne with Vic Kohring - October, 2007|
The two I watched most closely, Vic Kohring and Sarah Palin, have also had their rise and fall. Palin, who Kohring mentored in her early career, seems to have ended up rich. Kohring is impoverished. Palin has yet to be caught. Kohring was caught on video by the FBI, with the tape of his accepting a bribe from Bill Allen becoming an Alaska icon.
Kohring announced Monday that he has copped a plea in his renewed bribery case:
Former Rep. Vic Kohring said Monday that he will plead guilty to a federal extortion-conspiracy charge, forestalling the lone trial still pending from the huge FBI corruption investigation into Alaska politics.
In a notice filed in U.S. District Court, Kohring said he would plead guilty to the first count in his three-count indictment. That charge accuses him of a participating in a multi-year conspiracy to squeeze money out of the oil-field contractor Veco Inc. in return for special treatment on oil legislation.
The corruption investigation, begun in 2004 when a Juneau-based FBI agent got tips that private prison advocates were bribing legislators, now appears destined to go out with whimper.
Over the course of the investigation, which surfaced in 2006 with coordinated raids on legislative offices in Anchorage, Juneau and the Mat-Su valley, several defendants and a judge turned the tables on prosecutors and accused them of misconduct. Jury verdicts of guilty in three cases were thrown out, and no charges were brought at all against other elected officials accused in documentary evidence and by witnesses of taking illegal payments.
Two of the blown cases involved Kohring and former House Speaker Pete Kott, a contemporary who last week agreed to plead guilty to bribery to also avoid an upcoming retrial.
Both are scheduled to be sentenced Friday. Prosecutors have not yet filed their sentencing recommendations.
In the scheme of things involving Alaska's robust political corruption environment, Kohring wasn't exactly the biggest fish in the pond. At the Anchorage Daily News story on the plea bargain announcement, many commenters are wondering once more how Ben Stevens got off without being charged. I also wonder that about Jerry Ward. And a few others.
Anyone who thinks Bill Allen was bribing Alaska legislators without some sort of knowledge of this, through cutouts, by the chief executives of Alaska's major oil producers, BP and Conoco-Phillips, is naive.
Anyone thinking that the 2006-2011 political corruption scandals have made Alaska politics more sanitized, more people-oriented, less corruptible is also naive.
It is somewhat ironic that the person who replaced Kohring as Representative for what has been until recently the 14th Legislative District votes exactly the way Kohring would have on most issues. Rep. Wes Keller, if anything, is more of a tool of big business and big oil than was Kohring. Kohring's libertarian streak made him sort of a loose cannon among local and state GOP apparatchiks. Keller is securely fastened down.
Vic will probably be given from six months to a year in a Federally-approved halfway house, rather than be sent back to prison, or given "time already served." Although Kohring was never well off - his wife's lifestyle assured he would never be able to save much - he is now bankrupt and in constant physical pain.
I've stayed in contact with Vic throughout the trial, prison sentence and afterward, corresponding as recently as three weeks ago. He knows I have long been a severe critic, dating back to dueling op-eds between us in the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman over 15 years ago. If I printed out our emails back and forth over the years, it would be a sizable book.
In Alaska, we have one of the more corrupt political systems in the USA. Sending Kohring back to prison, or to a halfway house, for that matter, won't change it one bit. He's already gotten a huge message.
But most Alaska GOP politicians, I venture to say, are as open to business as they ever were. They've just gotten better at hiding how they benefit from their corrupt practices.
It might also be ironic that a Federal investigation which began with complaints about Bill Weimer's meddling with politicians over the expansion of his private prison empire, ends as a new prison sits finished, yet empty, in the midst of the district Kohring once represented. I dare say had the FBI monitored aspects of this fiasco as closely as they did Bill Allen's suite at the Baranof, we might be looking at a new round of trials.