Friday, March 26, 2010

Thoughts on the FBI's $200,000 Payment to Frank Prewitt


Except to say that Vic Kohring’s lawyers understandably want to compare his case to that of Ted Stevens (guilty verdicts overturned) as opposed to that of Pete Kott (still a felon), I’ll wait until the prosecution responds to Kohring’s post-trial motion to dismiss his case to walk through the legal arguments. For the moment, I’ll confine myself to a discussion of one bit in the filing that raised a lot of eyebrows.

The payment of $200,000 to key informant Frank Prewitt by the FBI is a surprise, more in terms of Prewitt’s professed motivations than from the standpoint of what the feds got.

Although neither the feds nor Prewitt would confirm the payment, the money seems pretty certain to have changed hands. The defense cites federal documents provided in post-trial discovery as the source for the information, and neither Prewitt nor the FBI would deny the payment when the Anchorage Daily News inquired about it.

If the federal government ever attempted a full-dress justification of this payment, I assume that the argument would include these points:

(a) Prewitt worked a lot over more than two years assisting the federal investigation of Alaska public corruption code-named “POLAR PEN.”

(b) His work and cooperation generated big dividends for the feds. Federal prosecutors announced some time ago that that Prewitt's efforts allowed the feds to get the wiretaps on key figures Bill Allen and Rick Smith as well as former State Rep. Tom Anderson (R.-Anchorage). Those wiretaps—particularly those on former VECO executives Allen and Smith—allowed most of the prosecutions the probe has produced.

Even more intriguing in its own way is the contrast between this news of cold cash when placed alongside Prewitt’s own statements about his motivations. Prewitt spent so many hours over so many months wiring up and informing against a number of people, including some long-time associates (and maybe even friends). To explain his extensive cooperation, Prewitt has repeatedly emphasized his good citizenship and his interest in becoming spiritually whole, not the anticipation or hope of receipt of money (or any fear of prosecution he might have harbored).

The FBI apparently gave Prewitt his payment at a ceremony at FBI headquarters attended by some federal prosecutors and FBI agents. Prewitt’s book focuses on the praise federal officials lavished on him at that event as well as the gag gift he received (a shirt without a bug). Somehow, he manages to omit any mention of a $200,000 check.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Still Digesting the Kohring Motion, But Here's a Bonus Math Joke

Indio, California—

I’ve reviewed the Kohring motion, and I’m still thinking about it. While I chew, here’s something to show that I have been hanging around with some pre-school relatives:

Q. What did the zero say to the eight?

A. Nice belt.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Traffic Cop in the Desert, Plus a Note on My Talk

Indio, California—

I’m visiting relatives out of state, so all I’m going to do this morning is point you toward two notable items available on the Internet:

1. Lisa Demer of the Anchorage Daily News has the story that the new filing by former State Rep. Vic Kohring’s new lawyer asserts that the FBI paid key informant Frank Prewitt $200,000, apparently after he testified in the Kohring case. (Note that Prewitt provided information and assistance to the FBI for more than two years.) The FBI and Prewitt would neither confirm nor deny the payment to the Daily News. I’ll have more to say about this apparent payment and this filing after I’ve had a chance to read the filing. Until then, Demer’s story is at on the Internet.

2. A recently departed Department of Justice official told a law school audience yesterday that the Department’s decision to dump the prosecution of former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens was “painful” but “the right thing to do based on the circumstances of that case.” Former Deputy Attorney General David Ogden said that the Department had “abandoned a case it believed in on the merits” when Attorney General Eric Holder decided to request that the prosecution be dismissed after the jury returned guilty verdicts. Ogden said, however, that the decision to drop the case in the midst of allegations of prosecutorial misconduct had served the broader goal of showing that federal prosecutors respected the rights of defendants even when it hurt. The Blog of Legal Times reports that Ogden acknowledged that the decision to kill the Ted Stevens case almost a year ago had “rankled career prosecutors and hurt morale.” You can read the whole account at on the Internet.

And in response to commenter Howard, I’m still thinking about how to get out my presentation from last Thursday evening. Thanks for your interest.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Additional Ways to Hear Me Speak on Alaska Public Corruption


I have been asked if there would be a way for those unable to attend my lecture last Thursday at the University of Alaska Anchorage to hear it. I was advised during the lecture that it was taped and would be available as a podcast. I’ll give you the details when I have them.

And if you’re really set on hearing my nasally voice and fast speech, you can hear them—plus the dulcet tones of radio anchor Lori Townsend—by listening to the Alaska Public Radio Network story previewing my presentation. It appeared on the statewide program “Alaska News Nightly” last Thursday, and can be heard at on the Internet.

Finally, I don’t think I showed my last slide at my lecture. Here it is:


Conversations with a number of people have sharpened my thinking about Alaska public corruption. Prominent among them would be Terry Gardiner, George Freeman, Mark Regan, Michael Carey, Steve Aufrecht, and Theresa Philbrick.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Updated Biography, Plus Even More Disclosures


In preparing for my Polaris Lecture at the University of Alaska Anchorage tonight, I have tweaked my bio and expanded my disclosures of various interests and relationships with various defendants, suspects, and lawyers involved in the investigations and trials covered by this blog. You can read all that below, and you can come see me talk tonight at 7:30 p.m. at UAA’s nifty new ConocoPhillips Integrated Sciences Building (the one with the planetarium) in Room 120.

Biography of Cliff Groh

Cliff Groh is a lifelong Alaskan who has been a lawyer for more than 20 years. He is now a writer and attorney in Anchorage. Formerly a prosecutor, Groh has represented some criminal defendants in his private law practice.

Groh has been doing research for a book on the Alaska public corruption scandals uncovered by the current federal investigations and the resulting trials. To that end, he has observed most of the trials of former state legislators Pete Kott and Vic Kohring in Anchorage and all of the trial of then-U.S. Senator Ted Stevens in Washington, D.C. He has taught two classes on Alaska public corruption through the Opportunities for Lifelong Education (OLE) program. He maintains a blog on the Alaska public corruption scandals at on the Internet.

Groh served as the Special Assistant to the Commissioner of Revenue from 1987 through 1990. In that capacity, he served essentially as the State of Alaska's tax lobbyist in the successful effort in 1989 to revise the state's oil taxes in a way that increased revenues from the giant Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk fields. The legislation adopted in 1989 created a regime for oil taxes that lasted until the Alaska Legislature adopted the Petroleum Profits Tax in 2006.

Groh was also the principal legislative staff member working on Permanent Fund Dividend legislation in 1982. That legislation produced the per capita Permanent Fund Dividend Alaska has today.

Groh worked as an Assistant District Attorney in Anchorage and in rural Alaska communities such as St. Paul, Unalaska, and Sand Point. He has handled approximately 30 jury trials as a prosecutor. He has also served as in-house and outside counsel for municipal governments in Alaska. He served as a delegate to the Conference of Alaskans in 2004.

When Groh was first out of college in the late 1970s, he worked as a reporter with a statewide newspaper called the Alaska Advocate. He has also published historical articles on topics ranging from the Permanent Fund Dividend to the history of journalistic coverage of the capital move campaigns.

Groh is a graduate of Harvard College, where his senior honors thesis was on the history of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 (ANCSA). His law degree is from the University of California at Berkeley (Boalt Hall).

Disclosures of Potentially Relevant
Interests and Relationships

Groh’s work in government has included service in both partisan and non-partisan positions. Groh has worked for Democrats while serving in partisan positions in the Alaska State Legislature and the Alaska Department of Revenue. He is a registered Democrat who was a delegate to the 1988 Alaska Democratic Convention.

Groh socialized with Bruce Weyhrauch during periods in the 1980s and early 1990s when both lived in Juneau, and Groh had some social contacts with Weyhrauch afterwards. While serving as City and Borough Attorney for the City and Borough of Sitka, Groh arranged in 2002 or 2003 for Weyhrauch to act as counsel for the City and Borough in a case where Groh had a conflict of interest.

Groh has known Ted Stevens all of Groh's life, and Groh's father—who passed away in 1998—was a close friend and political ally of Ted Stevens. Groh lived in a dormitory in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1975 with interns of Stevens' Senate office while researching a college senior honors thesis on the history of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, and Ted Stevens apparently made the arrangements for Groh to live in that dormitory. Groh sometimes used space in Ted Stevens' Senate office during the summer of 1975 while researching his thesis, and Groh both interviewed and had some social contacts with Stevens that summer.

Groh’s mother was a close friend of Ted Stevens’ first wife Ann Stevens, who died in an airplane crash in 1978. Ted Stevens and his Senate staff worked to arrange for additional medical care for both of Groh’s parents when they were stricken with cancer in the 1990s.

At various points over the years, Groh met and spoke with Jim Clark, Bill Weimar, and Pete Kott about various matters. Groh also exchanged e-mail messages with Vic Kohring about fiscal policy. Groh has interviewed Don Young in the 1970s, and as a child he may have played with Ben Stevens.

In the 1980s, Groh’s father served as VECO’s lawyer in defending the corporation against an enforcement action brought by the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) regarding VECO’s campaign contributions. One or both of Groh’s parents also had some business dealings with Bill Allen in the 1980s. In an apparent attempt to interest Bill Allen in buying real estate, Groh’s father reportedly took Allen to a subdivision in rural Alaska owned by a corporation controlled by Groh’s father. Neither Allen nor VECO purchased any property at the subdivision. Given the limited number of sleeping spaces available in the area at the time, however, that visit by Bill Allen probably means that Groh has slept in a bed that Bill Allen once slept in.

Groh has also worked and/or socialized with a number of the Anchorage lawyers who have worked on matters associated with the “POLAR PEN” probe into public corruption in Alaska. Some of those attorneys are or have been prosecutors on those matters, and some of those attorneys have served as defense counsel on those matters.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Newsweek, Here's My Short Story on Alaska Corruption


The online version of Newsweek magazine published a collection of pieces about the candidacy of various states for the title of most corrupt, unethical, and dysfunctional. Staff members took turns promoting their own home states for the title, and brief essays appear on Illinois, New Jersey, Louisiana, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Ohio. The magazine laments that it has no staff member from Alaska, and linked to this blog as evidence that recent events should give the Last Frontier "honorable mention" in the contest of sleaze. Here's what I put in the comments section:

As the author of the blog that you linked to, I would offer these comments on my own state:

Alaska has had a pretty clean reputation for most of its half-century as a state. The long-running federal investigation into public corruption on the Last Frontier, however, has pushed the 49th State up in the rankings of the most corrupt states, particularly on a per capita basis.

There are only about 700,000 people in the state’s 586,000 square miles. Yet five state legislators have gotten convicted of felonies related to public corruption—that’s one-twelfth of the 60 lawmakers who were in office six years ago. The Chief of Staff to ex-Gov. Frank Murkowski has also pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing. And a jury returned guilty verdicts on seven counts against Alaska’s most powerful politician—iconic U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens—although prosecutorial misconduct led the trial judge to overturn the verdicts and dismiss the case before sentencing.

The federal probe on the Last Frontier has also caught some big fish among Alaska powerbrokers who have never served in office. The biggest among the private citizens is Bill Allen, the multimillionaire tycoon who built VECO--a $1 billion construction and oil-services company—and became the de facto controller of campaign funds for Republicans in the state. In one of the most colorful moments exposed in the investigation, Allen was caught on an FBI tape telling a state legislator—and former Speaker of the House—“I own your ass.”

(The Newsweek essays on various states can be accessed at on the Internet.)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

New Chief Chosen for Public Integrity Section


Press reports state that Justice Department officials have a new chief for the embattled Public Integrity Section, the specialized unit dedicated to fighting public corruption around the United States.

The Washington Post reported that John L. “Jack” Smith was offered the job, and the Associated Press has the news that he has accepted the position. The newspaper described him as “a career department prosecutor from Brooklyn who in recent years has supervised sensitive investigations of foreign officials at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.”

The website characterizes Smith as “a tireless worker and Washington outsider who often biked to crime scenes and whose self-effacing personality and trustworthiness helped endear him to judges and juries.”

Smith will need that sense of balance and that tirelessness. He takes over a unit battered by two probes into the conduct of the prosecutors in its most recent big trial, the case of then-U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R.-Alaska). Six lawyers who worked on the case face an internal investigation run by the Department of Justice as well as a separate criminal probe controlled by special counsel selected by District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, the trial judge in the Ted Stevens case. Judge Sullivan overturned the jury’s guilty verdicts and dismissed the case last April in the wake of disclosures regarding prosecutors’ failures to turn over evidence.

Raymond Hulser, a long-time prosecutor who had been serving as the Public Integrity Section’s acting chief since last year, has agreed to become Smith’s principal deputy.

Smith would become the Section’s seventh chief in seven years. It was almost seven years ago that the federal government began its federal investigation into Alaska public corruption, and Smith will apparently have a big role in deciding when and how to wrap it up.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Why Haven't the Feds Indicted Jerry Ward?

This blog is pleased to present another guest post from Mark Regan:


Why hasn’t Jerry Ward been prosecuted?

After all, Bill Weimar pled guilty in 2008 to crimes involving an “understanding” with Ward that if Weimar helped Ward retire his debt, Ward would support Weimar’s private prison proposal; the Feds told Ward back in November 2008 that he had become a target of their investigation; and a day or so after the Feds told Ward this, he apparently helped Dave Anderson send in complaints about the Ted Stevens investigation which included the claim that the Feds had promised immunity to a whole raft of people connected with Dave Anderson, including Jerry Ward, but then had gone back on their promise.

Problem # 1: The case against Ward might depend on the honest services statute. The core of Weimar’s plea was that he had conspired with Ward to deprive the public of Ward’s honest services, if and when Ward was elected. The U.S. Supreme Court seems poised to invalidate or at least drastically limit the honest services statute.

Problem # 2: Ward didn’t win the election. So maybe he never got into the position to deprive anyone of his honest services, or to do anything in response to an anticipatory bribe from Weimar.

Problem # 3: The federal prosecutors who are themselves being investigated are at the heart of the Ward/Anderson problem. Statements from them about Ward and Anderson, saying that they didn’t promise immunity to Ward or other people associated with Anderson, are all over the Ted Stevens court file. Maybe the replacement prosecutors don’t want to go ahead with an indictment of Ward until or unless the prior prosecutors are cleared of wrongdoing in the Ted Stevens case.

Problem # 3A: Maybe the Feds really did promise immunity to Jerry Ward. Weirder things have happened ... naaah.

Problem # 4: Maybe someone could indict Ward for preparing a false affidavit signed by Anderson, or for obstructing justice; but if the Polar Pen investigation is stalled, going after Jerry Ward for obstructing it might not be a politic thing to do.

--Mark Regan

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Why Haven't Ben Stevens and Don Young Been Prosecuted?--UPDATED


Back in the fall of 2008, it looked like former Alaska State Senate President Ben Stevens (R.-Anchorage) and U.S. Rep. Don Young (R.-Alaska) would be charged soon in the federal investigation into Alaska public corruption.

Federal prosecutors had induced former VECO executives Bill Allen and Rick Smith to plead guilty to bribing Ben Stevens over the ex-lawmaker’s role in oil-tax legislation, and news reports disclosed that investigators were looking closely at Ben Stevens’ income from consulting contracts with fisheries entities with interests in legislation supported by his father, then-U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R.-Alaska).

As for Young, the press had reported that the Congressman for all Alaska faced a federal probe on multiple fronts. Particularly problematic for Young, it appeared, were the roles of Allen and Smith in Young’s campaign fundraising.

More generally, back in late October of 2008 the prosecutors appeared to be on a roll. Every defendant who had been charged in the federal probe into Last Frontier public corruption—codenamed “POLAR PEN”—had either pleaded guilty or had the jury return guilty verdicts at trial, and a prominent Alaska journalist had reported that multiple sources had told him that a total of 26 people would be indicted.

Sixteen months later, however, neither Ben Stevens nor Don Young has been charged with any crime. The total number of people charged in the federal probe is stuck at 12, with only one of those—ex-State Rep. Beverly Masek (R.-Willow)—being charged in the last year and a half. The judge who has overseen most of the cases brought in the federal probe into Alaska public corruption announced in October that the likelihood of charges against any more people amounted to “sheer speculation.” And Ben Stevens and Don Young—and their lawyers—would also like you to know that each of them vigorously denies wrongdoing.

Why haven’t federal prosecutors charged either man?

I don’t know for sure, and I haven’t spoken about this with anybody with inside information on the decision-making. With those caveats, here’s my speculation, which puts the factors pointing towards non-prosecution into three categories:

1. The Department of Justice appears to feel both singed and relatively short-staffed after the Ted Stevens case blew up and former legislators Pete Kott and Vic Kohring got out of prison.

A lot has gone wrong for the federal government on its probe in the last 16 months, and the investigation started going downhill very soon after the jury returned its guilty verdicts on October 27, 2008 against then-U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens. The case completely collapsed last April, when in the wake of admitted failures by the prosecution before the trial to over to the defense evidence (“discovery” in legal lingo) the trial judge set aside the jury verdicts and dismissed the case.

The lawyers who served as the prosecutors against Ted Stevens are now the subjects of two investigations themselves. One probe is an internal investigation run by the Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), and the other is a highly unusual probe instigated by the trial judge and run by a special counsel that is looking at the possibility of charging those lawyers with criminal contempt of court.

Then in June, the new prosecution teams assigned to the Alaska public corruption investigation announced that they had discovered additional evidence that should have turned over before the trials of former State Reps. Pete Kott (R.-Eagle River) and Vic Kohring (R.-Wasilla). In another highly unusual development, the government agreed that Kott and Kohring could leave prison pending the resolution of the questions raised by these discovery failures—and both ex-lawmakers are still free.

The meltdown of the Ted Stevens prosecution and the continuing revelations of the prosecution’s failures have put a cloud over the lawyers best-informed about the Alaska public corruption investigation and dirtied up the government’s primary cooperating witnesses.

The Department of Justice appears to face problems both perceptual and practical in pushing ahead with complicated new cases in “POLAR PEN,” the long-running federal probe of Alaska public corruption.

The perceptual problem is that the collapse of the Ted Stevens prosecution and the post-trial litigation in the cases of Kott and Kohring have made the feds look inept, malicious, or both. The prosecutors’ handling of the Ted Stevens case, in particular, stands as a black mark on the Department of Justice. Attorney General Eric Holder might think that the benefit from teaching government lawyers a lesson by pulling the plug on the Alaska public corruption investigation was worth the price in any corrupt public officials who thereby escaped punishment.

And then there’s the practical problem—the people who spent the most time on your dime learning the most about public corruption in Alaska are now on the griddle themselves for their alleged misconduct in the Ted Stevens trial. The lead FBI agent on the “POLAR PEN” investigation may also be facing an internal investigation over various allegations made by Chad Joy, a colleague who worked closely with her.

The federal government’s reputation for unlimited resources notwithstanding, there are only about 30 lawyers in the Public Integrity Section, the Department of Justice’s specialized unit dedicated to fighting public corruption. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Anchorage could help directly now that it is no longer recused from working on the “POLAR PEN” cases. Particularly given the Attorney General’s possible desire to take advantage of a teachable moment for prosecutors, however, the Department may decide (or have already decided) that it wants to move on to other matters in this investigation that has already run on almost seven years.

Even if the Department decides it’s willing to throw in the staff needed to prosecute Ben Stevens and Don Young, the new team(s) of federal prosecutors would be stuck with dealing with key witnesses who look significantly worse than they did 16 months ago.

It's not just the fact that former VECO executives Bill Allen and Rick Smith are now in prison that they may be less attractive witnesses for federal prosecutors than they were before--the government has bigger problems than that. The increased questions about Bill Allen’s memory and credibility that have arisen in the post-trial litigation in the Ted Stevens and Kott cases are bad enough.

Even worse, though, are the details of Allen’s alleged sexual abuse of minors. Prosecutors would have to be worried about the risks that evidence of Allen’s alleged sexual offenses would somehow get in front of a jury in a trial and create such anger that jurors would go for jury nullification and acquit Ben Stevens or Young out of outrage that Allen has so far escaped prosecution for what some jurors might see as crimes worse than public corruption. Publicity regarding Allen’s sordid past has been so extensive in Alaska—which is the only logical place that Ben Stevens could be tried, at least for crimes involving oil-tax legislation—that prosecutors would also have to be concerned about the jury being tainted even without the introduction of evidence about the alleged sex crimes of the former VECO CEO.

UPDATE (March 7): Bill Allen is less likely to be cooperative as a federal witness against Ben Stevens or Don Young if Allen comes to believe that the Anchorage police--or especially the federal government--is investigating him for allegedly committing sex crimes.

To a much lesser degree, Allen’s former political lieutenant Smith also looks worse than he did before because of recent revelations about his alleged psychological instability since he pleaded guilty. This could be particularly importantly important in a prosecution of Young, as Smith would apparently be a key witness against the Congressman in any prosecution involving the alleged illegal receipt of gratuities.

2. A controversy over the constitutionality over one of the feds’ primary weapons against public corruption has appeared to make them wary about bringing more complicated cases in this area.

One of the favorite arrows in the quiver of federal prosecutors in white-collar crime cases is “the honest services fraud statute.” The feds have for years used this law in the public corruption realm and against alleged corporate malefactors as well. Half of the 12 people who have been charged in the “POLAR PEN” probe, for example, have faced charging documents that have included at least one count of honest services fraud.

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has given a number of hints in the past few months that it might rule this law unconstitutional soon. The Supreme Court just heard its third case during its current term on the honest services fraud statute—one of them being the case of former State Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch (R.-Juneau). All indications are that this controversial law is going to get pruned substantially or even ruled unconstitutional. This uncertainty over a preferred tool seems to be causing federal prosecutors all over the country to be hold back, and Ben Stevens and Don Young may be benefitting from the resulting legal limbo.

3. The combination of his extensive financial disclosures and—perhaps—his relative invisibility on incriminating tapes may help prevent the prosecution of Ben Stevens, and Don Young’s apparent receipt of things of relatively little value may be aiding Alaska’s only Congressman avoid charges.

Ben Stevens got almost a quarter of a million dollars in fees from VECO while he was in the State Senate and also took positions as a legislator on oil taxes that VECO wanted him to take, but the combination of those two facts do not by themselves constitute a crime. What was going on in Ben Stevens’ mind is where the action is in prosecuting him, as it often is in public corruption cases. (That’s also true in the broader category of white-collar crime cases, like that of his father.)

Prosecutors have found that the best way to show that a defendant in a public corruption case has criminal intent is by playing tapes that show him saying and/or doing things that make him look guilty. This focus on tapes to prove intent has been true since before the famous ABSCAM cases in the 1970s, but the emphasis on such tangible and simple-seeming evidence has only increased with the popularity of such television programs as “CSI,” where technicians each week come up with scientific proof that a suspect committed a crime.

All the defendants that juries have returned guilty verdicts against in the Alaska public corruption cases have had damaging tapes of them played in front of the jury. Tapes are powerful evidence, and tapes tend to trump other evidence.

An obstacle in prosecuting Ben Stevens is that there may be no evidence of him looking bad on tape. Absence from incriminating videotapes or audiotapes might occur through avoiding hanging out in the infamous VECO-rented Suite 604 or by not talking much on the telephone with Bill Allen or Rick Smith. If Ben Stevens has been able to stay out of the FBI’s greatest hits, he may be as smart—or at least as shrewd and cunning—as some of his former legislative colleagues say he is. (It’s also possible--as he and his attorneys would certainly assert—that Ben Stevens might never have been caught saying or doing anything incriminating on tape because he didn’t say or do anything incriminating.)

Aside from whatever the more than 17,000 conversations the feds intercepted in this investigation may show about Ben Stevens, there is another problem the feds have in prosecuting him on offenses involving either VECO or fisheries. That problem is the fact that the former State Senator apparently disclosed all the income he got for consulting and/or lobbying that he was legally required to disclose. You might think his conduct was unseemly and unsavory, but it’s likely that Ben Stevens would say that he is just a hard-working businessman who laid bare his income as the law required, both when he served as a federal lobbyist and when he served as a state legislator.

As to all that money from VECO that came in while his legislator when his work product may look tiny or even non-existent, Ben Stevens might well say that he thought he was on retainer—a retainer that allowed Bill Allen to call Ben Stevens about work for VECO anytime 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Ben Stevens might add that it was not his problem that Bill Allen seemed to call him so infrequently to work on matters such as advice on salvaging vessels.

Don Young may face even less problems that Ben Stevens, in part because the sheer volume of money going to Young as income—as opposed to campaign contributions—may not seem that impressive. As Mark Regan has pointed out in a guest post on this blog, documents made public in Allen’s sentencing suggested that the feds were investigating Young for matters that involved less than $200,000 in VECO expenses on campaign fundraisers over about 14 years and perhaps $1,000 in a set of golf clubs allegedly bought by Smith for Young with Allen’s credit card.

Numerous Alaskans would be surprised if Ben Stevens and Don Young escaped prosecution after being under investigation for years, but many people are probed a long time without being charged. Not prosecuting Ben Stevens after getting Allen and Smith to plead guilty to bribing him might pose a particular public relations problem for the Department of Justice, but such a result would be neither illegal nor unprecedented. The criminal justice system has produced some odd outcomes in the public corruption sphere as well as in some less famous cases. One well-known irony that involved verdicts by juries rather than the exercise of prosecutorial discretion comes from the notorious Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s. Albert Fall was convicted for taking a bribe from oilman Edward Doheny while serving as Secretary of Interior, but oilman Edward Doheny was acquitted of the charge of bribing Fall.

Additional caveats and acknowledgments: Recall again that Ben Stevens and Don Young would say that the reason that they have not been charged with crimes is that they are not guilty. Nothing in this analysis should be taken as expressing any view that any particular person is guilty of any crime. My background in both prosecution and criminal defense sharpened my thinking in writing this analysis of the factors involved in evaluating potential criminal charges. So did numerous conversations with other attorneys and journalists, including lawyers Mark Regan of Fairbanks and George Freeman of Anchorage. Those who have spoken with me are responsible for none of what might be bad about what I write and much of what is good.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Yeah, It Was Me


As the former Governor has kindly pointed out, I did meet with Tony Knowles on Tuesday--as opposed to Wednesday--last week. It is, um, embarrassing to get the date wrong.

You can still benefit from my sourdough bona fides--and whatever other knowledge I've accumulated--when I give the Polaris Lecture on Thursday, March 18, at UAA's ConocoPhillips Integrated Sciences Building, Room 120 at 7:30 p.m.

The title is “Causes and Consequences of the Federal Investigation into Alaska Public Corruption: Can We Get Off the Slippery Slope?”

In response to a commenter's question, I'll try to figure out the best way to post what I say.

Just don't expect me to look the same as I did in the picture posted yesterday--I'll probably have ditched my "prospector/professor" beard by then.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Could Anybody Call this Man "East Coast Looking?"


No, you say—he has the stamp of the sourdough all over his face. And you would be right.

Sheila Toomey—the experienced Alaska journalist who compiles the “Alaska Ear” column in the Sunday edition of the Anchorage Daily News—has told me that her tip about somebody speaking with former Gov. Tony Knowles at Sidestreet Expresso came on Tuesday evening, before my Wednesday morning session with him last week. As odd it sounds, this means that two white-haired bearded men wearing jackets with elbow patches met with the former Governor at a small Anchorage coffee shop in less than 16 hours.

Whew, glad we got that one cleared up. And you could see what this guy looks like for yourself by coming to see me speak at the Polaris Lecture at the University of Anchorage on Thursday, March 18. It will be held at UAA’s new ConocoPhillips Integrated Sciences Building (CPISB) at Room 120 at 7:30 p.m.
The title is “Causes and Consequences of the Federal Investigation into Alaska Public Corruption: Can We Get Off the Slippery Slope?”

As I told Sheila, the talk will be juicier than the title.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

If You Like This Blog, You'll Probably Like This Talk--UPDATED


I'll be giving the Polaris Lecture at the University of Alaska Anchorage on Thursday, March 18, at 7:30 p.m.

The title is "Causes and Consequences of the Federal Investigation into Alaska Public Corruption: Can We Get Off the Slippery Slope?"

It's free and open to the public, and there will be a question and answer period at the end. I'd love to see you there.

UPDATE--And it will be easier to get there if you know that the lecture will take place at UAA's new Conoco Phillips Integrated Sciences Building (CPISB), Room 120.

Geez--Even If You Are a Lifelong Alaskan Born in the Territory and Still Sport a Full Beard Left Over...


...from your vacation, they can still call you "East Coast looking" if you wear the sports jacket you got as a gift from your fiancee (a former trapper and musher who has slayed many fish and land critters).

From the "Alaska Ear" gossip column in Sunday's Anchorage Daily News:

OUT AND ABOUT ... Earwigs spotted former Gov. Tony Knowles being unusually voluble and demonstrative during what looked like an interview at Side Street Espresso Tuesday evening. The interviewer was described as "white-haired and East Coast looking," which Ear understands to mean he wore a jacket with elbow patches.The Omniscient Orifice has no idea who it was. Joe McGinniss? He's a white-haired guy and writing a book with the wonderful working title "Sarah Palin's Year of Living Dangerously," set for publication by Random House next year. But this white-hair had a beard and at last glimpse McGinniss didn't. So who knows. Maybe Tony's dictating his memoirs.

This event was actually Wednesday morning (in the words of the "Ear," "The truth is so limiting"), but the man with the former Governor was clearly me. I'll own up to my white hair, but I thought my fur-face made me look more like a prospector than a professor. I'll try to choke back my disappointment and keep working on my own book.

To see me how you could see me and decide for yourself, check out the next post.