Thursday, November 01, 2007

Former Alaska State Representative Vic Kohring Found Guilty On Three Of Four Counts Less Than 24 Hours After Jury Received The Case

I thought this might have taken longer for the jury to decide - the video and audio evidence was damning, but Vic Kohring didn't come across as a legislative predator on the prowl like Tom Anderson and Pete Kott.

But the jury apparently decided it was a slam dunk.

After less than 24 hours after being delivered the case, a federal jury convicted former Rep. Vic Kohring (pictured at left) this afternoon (November 1st, 2007) on three of four counts that he sold his office to Veco and its former chairman, Bill Allen. The verdict was announced barely 24 hours after the case went to the 12-member jury. The jury quickly dismissed Kohring’s assertions that it was friendship, not a blend of greed and politics, that led him to ask Allen and former Veco vice president Rick Smith for money and do Veco’s bidding in Juneau. Full story published in the Anchorage Daily News. And KTUU Channel 2 is just now picking up on the story.

Kohring’s defense sought to portray Allen as a man who would lie to spare his children from federal charges and his company from being indicted. But there was little Kohring could do about the damning videotapes secretly filmed in Veco’s infamous suite 604 at Juneau’s Baranof Hotel, where Kohring was seen taking a wad of cash from Allen during the 2006 legislative session. Consequently, attempting to portray Bill Allen as the next Keith Cotter was doomed to failure; Keith Cotter's testimony alone was enough to convict the Shaun Walker Trio in Salt Lake back in April without any videotape evidence to corroborate his story.

Click HERE to see the videotape of the encounter in the Baranof Hotel.

Kohring, 49, a Republican from Wasilla, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit extortion for trying to get a Veco job for his nephew; of attempted extortion for trying to get Allen to pay his $17,000 credit card debt; and of bribery for accepting about $2,500 from Allen over the years in $600 to $700 increments. But the jury said “not guilty” to a charge that he extorted Allen by demanding cash and a job.

The jurors returned to the courtroom about 1:30 p.m. with their verdict. For the past few days, Kohring had been saying he was anticipating bad news from them. When the verdict was read, Kohring’s face reddened slightly and he pursed his lips but otherwise showed little emotion. Kohring has not disclosed whether he will appeal.

U.S. District Judge John Sedwick set sentencing for the first week of February.

Outside the courtroom, Kohring apologized for the “stress and trauma” the investigation and trial caused the people of Alaska and his constituents but declined to personally accept responsibility.

Two of the jurors told reporters that Kohring was a "sympathetic figure" who got sucked in. They characterized Kohring as a "bit player" who was more a minnow rather than a shark. But the video evidence was overwhelming.

Further details of today's developments are also documented on the Anchorage Daily News' official Alaska Politics blog. ADN reporter Kyle Hopkins was blogging the action and talked with Kohring and his lawyer, John Henry Browne, after the end of the trial. Here are some highlights:

Kohring’s defense team believes pre-trial publicity was a problem. They said they haven’t decided on an appeal. Kohring said he wanted to thank the jury, and the people of Alaska and his supporters – and also to apologize for the stress and trauma the investigation and trial have caused. He said that is not an admission of guilt.

Very interesting verdict. Very interesting split verdict,” Browne said. “I’m happy to the extent that the only plea bargain they ever offered us in this case was plea guilty as charged to all counts. So the fact that one count is gone now … was somewhat successful for us.”

The judge did not allow Browne to bring in witnesses who would testify that Kohring often asks people if there’s anything he can do for them, and tells them that his door is always open. (The jurors heard Kohring tell that to Veco exec Rick Smith in many of the tapes. Browne says prosecutors used it in an incriminating way, when it’s just Kohring’s habit.) However, Browne still considers Judge Sedwick to be a fair judge nonetheless. [Ed. Note: This impinged upon Kohring's ability to mount a vigorous defense. It would have been more constitutional for Judge Sedwick to allow the witnesses, and then if there was a problem, instruct the jury to disregard their testimony.]

Kohring, with his usual diplomatic aplomb, expressed appreciation for the jury's intentions, efforts, and sacrifices, thanked the people of his district for the honor of representing them in Juneau for 12 years, and apologized for the trauma his actions inflicted upon them. However, upon further probing, Kohring denied that it was an admission of guilt.

Browne said that sealed hearings in this case could also be the basis for appeals. And here's a biggie - Browne also said that the count Kohring was found not guilty of will have a big impact on lowering his sentence, though it wasn’t immediately clear what Kohring’s max sentence could be. What this could mean is that the jury recognized Kohring's sympathetic character by not convicting him on the most damning charge.

The Anchorage Daily News has dedicated an entire section listing previous stories about this scandal, the players, and the outcomes. Click HERE to access the section.

Commentary: This is a damn shame. Vic Kohring always worked hard on behalf of his district. Most constituents reported that whenever they brought an enquiry to his attention, he would respond straightaway. And Kohring was a genuine conservative - he always sought ways to reduce the cost and burden of government. He was at one time a legislative role model at the same level as Bob Lynn and Nancy Dahlstrom.

Not any more. You can't counter video evidence. However, in deference to the fact that it looks like Kohring sort of blundered into this situation, I think he'll get a lesser sentence than Tom Anderson. Look for three years at the most.

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