Friday, April 29, 2011
Sex, Death, and Fingerpointing: Why the Probes into the Original Alaska Corruption Prosecutors Are Taking So Long
More than two years have passed since two investigations began into the conduct of prosecutors and investigators who worked on the federal government’s investigation of Alaska public corruption. These probes of the probers arose in the wake of the botched prosecution of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, which ended in April of 2010 with the overturning of a jury’s guilty verdicts on seven felony counts and the dismissal of the case against the longtime lawmaker.
The Department of Justice’s internal watchdog unit—the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR)—is conducting one of the two satellite investigations into the prosecutors and the investigators; the other investigation is a highly unusual criminal probe run by a special counsel selected by the trial judge in the Ted Stevens case.
Why have these two investigations gone on so long?
As I have said before regarding these matters, I don’t know for sure, and unless you are one of this blog’s readers on the inside in Washington, D.C., neither do you. Having said that, here are several factors that may be contributing to this delay of more than two years:
1. Sex. Issues surrounding the federal government’s handling of Bill Allen’s dealings with underage girls threaten to overwhelm the public’s recollection of the entire “POLAR PEN” federal probe into Alaska public corruption. Bill Allen is the multimillionaire former CEO of VECO, the defunct oil-services corporation, who became a key government witness against public officials he used to pal around with. (Allen is also my neighbor, although Bill and I don’t run into each other now that he’s in federal prison following his convictions for bribery and other crimes related to public corruption.)
The Department of Justice did not turn over to the lawyers for the defendants in the “POLAR PEN” probe the information federal officials possessed about Allen’s exposure to prosecution for various crimes associated with sexual abuse of minors and attempts to cover up that abuse, and those failures to share that evidence has raised some thorny issues. The natural human interest in sex—and the natural human outrage at sexual exploitation of minors—has apparently made particularly sensitive the question of who within the Department of Justice was responsible for not turning over that information.
Another hot potato is the question of what federal officials told Bill Allen about any relationship between the corrupt tycoon’s decision to cooperate with the feds and his potential prosecution for offenses related to sex with underage girls. Despite considerable evidence tending to show Allen’s guilt, no government has ever charged Allen with sexual abuse of minors or transportation of a person under 18 across state lines for purposes of prostitution (or for solicitation of perjury or obstruction of justice in covering up the sex crimes).
2. Death. The tragic suicide of Nicholas Marsh, one of the former prosecutors who played a critical role in the POLAR PEN probe, appears to have both reflected the length of the probes into the prosecutors and further extended them. His friends cited Marsh’s anguish over how long the investigations had run on as a factor in the attorney’s decision to take his life last September. Now that he is dead, there may be a substantial temptation for various other prosecutors involved in the Ted Stevens case in particular to try to dump it all on the dead guy.
3. Fingerpointing. Attempts to blame Marsh now that he can no longer defend himself appear to be a subset of substantial efforts among the lawyers involved in the POLAR PEN probe to deflect responsibility for the failures to share evidence to defendants in the cases that arose from that probe. When the fingerpointing runs out, there may even be negotiations going on regarding the possibility of one or more lawyers accepting certain punishments to escape the possibility of more serious penalties.
4. The extensive facts in the POLAR PEN cases and the new court rulings. Now we get to the reasons that the Justice Department would give itself if that famously tightlipped agency ever offered an official comment about OPR’s long-running internal ethics probe, and special counsel Henry Schuelke would probably tell the press the same thing about the criminal investigation if he ever talked. The POLAR PEN cases—particularly the case against Ted Stevens—generated many, many boxes of evidence, and it takes a while to go through all them and question the prosecutors and FBI and IRS agents who worked on the original federal investigation into Alaska public corruption.
There were also also three court decisions issued last month that the feds might say that they were reviewing to assess any effects those decisions should have on the investigations, the findings, and any decision by the special counsel to prosecute anyone. Those first two of those three are the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decisions reversing the convictions of former State Reps. Vic Kohring (R.-Wasilla) and Pete Kott (R.-Eagle River) based on prosecutorial misconduct. The third is the U.S. Supreme Court decision in a case arising in New Orleans in which the high court restricted the ability of criminal defendants to sue prosecutors for civil rights violations based on the government’s failure to provide (or “discover”) evidence to a criminal defendant. (Hat tip to Anchorage attorney Mark Regan for the thought on the U.S. Supreme Court case, plus additional sharpening of my thinking on this post.)
(Notice: I’ll be out of town for a week, so reactions may come more slowly to new developments in the subjects covered by this blog.)
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Monday, April 11, 2011
Friday, April 8, 2011
Pete Kott's Lawyer Sheds New Light on What the Feds Allegedly Hid About Bill Allen's Alleged Sex Crimes
The filing strengthens my belief that the Justice Department will drop the case against Kott and former co-felon and former State Rep. Vic Kohring (R.-Wasilla), as the feds would do almost anything rather than allow such an evidentiary hearing. The evidence that the filing offers makes the feds look so bad that revulsion at the way the Department of Justice handled Bill Allen may also help explain the vehemence of the dissent of Circuit Court Judge Betty Fletcher's dissents in the cases of Kott and Kohring.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Judge Grants Permission for Bruce Weyhrauch's Lawyers to Forward Evidence of Prosecutorial Misconduct to Alaska Bar Association
Sunday, April 3, 2011
Prediction: The Feds Are Not Going to Re-Try Vic Kohring and Pete Kott, as the Department of Justice Will Turn Mother's Picture to the Wall
I have explained this to people by recalling a scene from a classic Western. In the 1960 film "The Magnificent Seven," seven hired American gunmen undertake to go to Mexico to protect a village terrorized by a gang of bandits. The task turns out to be tougher than they thought. The gunmen talk about what to do and about whether it would be wrong to take a contract to protect the villagers and then leave the helpless to their fate. The most mercenary of the gunmen urges the others to give up in the face of the long odds against them. The character says "There comes a time to turn Mother's picture to the wall and get out!"
And that's what I think the feds are going to do. Despite all the evidence against Kohring and Kott--including iconic video footage of Kohring taking cash from convicted briber Bill Allen--the prosecution is going to turn Mother's picture to the wall and dismiss the cases against the two former legislators. This decision would leave Kohring and Kott disgraced but no longer felons.
The feds have all kinds of reasons to make this decision, which are similar to the factors identified by NPR's Nina Totenberg as influencing the Attorney General's choice to drop the case against U.S. Ted Stevens in 2009:
1. Shut the door on the ugly. Re-trying Kohring and Kott would create two more forums for dragging out unfortunate facts about the investigation and prosecution of the cases arising out of the "POLAR PEN" federal probe into public corruption in Alaska.
2. Kohring and Kott have already been penalized. The two former legislators have already served months in prison before being released in the wake of disclosures of the prosecution's failures to provide evidence to the defense lawyers before trial.
3. These two are already out of public office, and it's unlikely that they would ever be elected again to any public office.
4. It's a teachable moment. Some Alaskans might be unhappy with a decision to drop the cases against Kohring and Kott now. The Department of Justice, however, might be more inclined to send a message to federal prosecutors to avoid the kinds of failures to disclose evidence that got their heads handed to them in the cases of former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, Kohring, and Kott and apparently contributed to the feds' embarrassing retreat in the case of former State Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch (R.-Juneau). The feds might also think--like the most mercenary gunman in the movie said about the village the Americans came to help--that Alaska will be "no worse off than it was before we came." In fact, Justice Department officials in Washington, D.C. might be thinking "We came to Alaska. We did a lot to clean it up. Now's the time to cut our losses and depart."
So that's my prediction: The Department of Justice will not re-try Kohring and Kott, and will instead arrange to drop the cases against them.
Then again, this comes from the same blogger who told you that Ted Stevens would never testify in his own defense at his trial.
(Thanks to Mark Regan for sharpening my thinking on this post.)
(This post has been improved with more links and better formatting since its original posting earlier this evening.)