Saturday, July 11, 2009

Judge Sedwick Turns Up the Heat on the Feds and Suggests that Bill Allen and Rick Smith Will Go to Prison Soon


It looks like it's time for the feds to put up or shut up.

Tired of long delays and apparently dismayed by the prosecution’s errors in other cases in the Alaska public corruption investigation, District Court Judge John Sedwick has set a date for sentencing admitted bribers Bill Allen and Rick Smith.

Orders issued this week name October 28 as the day that the two disgraced VECO executives will face justice for their bribery of Alaska legislators.

Since Allen and Smith pleaded guilty to several crimes in May of 2007, the judge had granted five requests by government lawyers to put off sentencing for the pair. The court allowed the delays so that the bribers could cooperate with the prosecution in building cases against other defendants in the “POLAR PEN” probe.

But now the judge has had enough, and has denied a request for a sixth extension. Judge Sedwick cited several reasons for putting his foot down now. The judge observed that the crimes of the pair are serious and “involve the integrity of the political process in the State of Alaska.” Those crimes occurred some time ago—some were back in 2002. The public has a substantial interest in seeing the imposition of sentence for these crimes.

The court pointed to practical factors as well. The federal government has had more than two years to get whatever they can get out of Allen and Smith to use in prosecuting others. What’s more, it appears that everybody who could get indicted was known at the time the two pleaded guilty.

Judge Sedwick didn’t say it, but at least one of those potential future indictees was named in sworn testimony. Allen and Smith have stated under oath that they bribed former State Senate President Ben Stevens (R.-Anchorage) while testifying in the trials of former State Reps. Pete Kott (R.-Eagle River) and Vic Kohring (R.-Wasilla).

Hanging over the judge’s orders announcing the sentencing date for the former VECO executives was his obvious exasperation with the errors of prosecutors that led to Kott and Kohring walking around free today along with former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R.-Alaska). Failures to provide discovery of evidence to defense attorneys forced onto Judge Sedwick the task of sorting out what to do in the cases against Kott and Kohring, and prosecutorial misconduct famously produced the setting aside of the guilty verdicts against Ted Stevens.

The judge offered one opening for the prosecutors to avoid the sentencing of the pair on October 28, but he signaled that opening is small indeed. If the government files a detailed request under seal giving the name and the date for each indictment that will rely on information from the VECO executives, the judge said that he would consider granting another delay past October 28.

The strong feeling you get from reading these orders, however, is that sentencing for Allen and Smith will occur on October 28. The pair can come in from prison and testify at later trials and still request reduced punishment based on that additional cooperation even after they have been sentenced.

Judge Sedwick’s tough new stand will tend to force the government’s hand regarding
additional prosecutions in “POLAR PEN.” The testimony of Allen and Smith figures to be critical in any trials of future defendants, and prosecutors might see the pair as likely to be more cooperative--and perhaps less unsavory--if they are not on temporary release from federal prison when they go on the witness stand. We will likely find out sooner rather than later whether the figures most frequently fingered as being the next to face criminal charges in that probe—including Ben Stevens, U.S. Rep. Don Young (R.-Alaska), and former State Sen. Jerry Ward (R.-Anchorage)—will actually be prosecuted.


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