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.

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