Monday, July 19, 2010

Vic Kohring’s Lawyers Again Focus on the Feds’ Conversations with Bill Allen, Not the Tape of the Powerbroker Handing Cash to the Legislator


The defense has made its latest filing in support of its motion to get a new trial or even get ex-State Rep. Vic Kohring’s convictions thrown out. The major message is “The tape of Bill Allen handing cash to Vic Kohring in a hotel room is really ambiguous and doesn’t prove our client’s guilt, particularly if you look at all the things Bill Allen told the feds before the trial that the feds did not disclose.”

The attorneys for the former Republican lawmaker from Wasilla spend a lot of time in their latest 29-page filing responding to the prosecution’s contention that--notwithstanding the government's admitted failures to turn over evidence to the defense before trial--the FBI’s surveillance tapes played to the jury conclusively show Kohring’s guilt.

The defense zeroes in on the prosecution’s favorite tape, the one that starts with then-Rep. Kohring going to then-VECO Chairman Bill Allen for help regarding the lawmaker's $17,000 credit card bill and ends up with Kohring getting cash from the powerbroker, ostensibly for an Easter gift for the legislator’s stepdaughter. This shot of Big Oil’s bagman handing over cash to the legislator in the notorious Suite 604 of Juneau’s Baranof Hotel has become a canonical image in the federal investigation into Alaska public corruption.

The defense urges the court to go behind the picture and look at all the statements Bill Allen made to federal investigators and prosecutors in the months between the time he agreed to cooperate with the feds and the time he testified at Kohring's trial. The focus should be on Allen’s “evolving storyline” and his fear of prosecution for sexual abuse of minors, says the defense. Allen at some points told the feds that he and Kohring were friends, and maybe--says the defense--Kohring saw the cash he got from Allen as just one example of a pattern of gifts between Allen and Kohring. Kohring’s lawyers argue that a jury allowed to hear about the powerbroker’s multiple versions of what happened and his extra motivation to shade his testimony would be likely to find reasonable doubt.

The attorneys for the former lawmaker are still pushing for an evidentiary hearing in which federal prosecutors and investigators would be called to testify under oath about what Allen told them in various stages of the debriefing. The government will vociferously resist such a proceeding, which would be particularly painful to the Department of Justice in the wake of disclosures of prosecutorial missteps in the “POLAR PEN” probe into Alaska public corruption. The government’s errors have already resulting in the vacating of the seven guilty verdicts against former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens as well as at least the temporary freeing from prison of Kohring and former State Rep. Pete Kott (R.-Eagle River) while the court decides what consequences there should be for prosecutorial misconduct.

U.S. District Judge John Sedwick has already turned down Kott’s motion to get his convictions thrown out or—in the alternative—get a new trial. Kohring’s status as a sad sack who constantly mooched meals and never was a legislative insider despite more than 12 years in the State House might help him, as it already helped garner him a shorter sentence than the savvier—if admittedly alcohol-plagued—Kott. It’s striking that former legislators who have worked with both Kott and Kohring tend to think that Kohring never really understood that what he was doing was wrong, while they generally believe that Kott was certainly aware of his wrongdoing.
(If you think--like a non-lawyer friend of mine--that Kohring's best course was to plead insanity, it's probably too late for that.)