Editor's note: A version of the following commentary was first featured in Make-A-Scene, a monthly community publication serving readers in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. It is the fifth installment in a series through which Mr. Kohring intends to tell his own side of the federal probe of public corruption in Alaska.
The one enduring image many think symbolizes the recently concluded federal cases involving U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, Veco CEO Bill Allen and myself is of the video footage showing Allen handing me money inside the now infamous Baranof Hotel Suite 604 in Juneau.
With many Alaskans viewing this image repeatedly, it created a near lynch-mob mentality. The negative footage even caused well-meaning people to "try and convict" me in their minds before I set one foot in court. It got out of hand so badly that one person wrote my legislative office and actually suggested I be taken out and shot!
The gullible were reacting purely on emotion instead of facts, from this one image only and the belief that the simple receipt of a small gift somehow represented a criminal act. Cooler heads should have prevailed and evidence should have been carefully examined before rendering such judgment, but unfortunately this didn't occur by my trial date. Consequently, I walked into the courtroom on Day 1 "guilty" in the minds of many. An impartial jury was nearly impossible to find. Some in the press don't always appear to understand the power of their words, which can be detrimental to another if used irresponsibly. I'm convinced some of the more experienced reporters are aware of this power and used it to their advantage when reporting on my case, by presenting me in a bad light. It appeared to be an effort to contribute to removing one of the legislature's most conservative, limited government lawmakers, a person who for years was a thorn in the side of those who disagreed philosophically.
The press has described this one brief video episode as the "iconic" image of the Polar Pen Investigation, a title coined by the FBI. The image, viewed by many, caused me to frequently hear, "It's proof Vic did what he was accused." I hope to set the record straight, but it's a difficult task as the damage has been done. It's been nearly five years since the footage began hitting the airwaves, initially on a near daily basis. The question is, did I actually engage in bribery?
Let's explore the facts. Yes, I received money from Allen, I don't deny that. The amount was $100, in the form of five, $20 bills. Rick Smith, another friend who was present, also gave me $100, totaling $200 that afternoon. Third, the money was intended as a gift for my step-daughter for an Easter egg hunt. I placed the money in plastic eggs for her and also bought her a nice Easter basket. She had a great time. That Easter was probably the most memorable for my family and my little Sweet Pea.
Some may argue that even if Allen gave me a measly $100 -- a fact backed up by video evidence -- it still represents bribery because the issue is one's intent, not the amount involved. In other words, the dollar amount is irrelevant if I intended to engage in a "quid pro-quo," providing something in exchange for money. Even fifty cents.
That may be true. But consider that it's a real stretch to suggest a tiny amount -- five, $20 bills -- could be seen as bribery by most reasonable people. The fact is, it was given to me as a gift for my daughter. Period. Far too much has been read into it. For this reason, the whole matter should have ended right there. No indictment and trial. No prison. No destruction of my life. But let's say for the sake of argument that my intent was indeed the crucial factor, not the amount received. The question should then be, what does the evidence show? Does it prove a quid-pro-quo?
The tape reveals I made some off-the-cuff remarks to Allen during our so-called "Easter egg meeting," raising a few eyebrows. I discussed talking with certain colleagues on the gas line legislation that Allen was pushing (which BTW I strongly opposed and voted against, something the prosecutors have greatly and understandably downplayed). I even sloppily used the word "lobby," but only loosely. Never once did I intend to engage in an agreement with Allen for his gain. Consider my verbatim words, all caught on tape: “I would make sure that everything was done in accordance to the law” (referring to a possible financial benefit from Allen, such as employment); “I don’t want any freebie from you;" I wish "to make sure we’re not violating any law;” “I want it to be above board.”
Those are not words of a person interested in breaking the law. Yet the government worked overtime to manipulate the facts and convince the jury otherwise. Certain individuals in the press happily covered it up, one reason why you've never heard of this.
The prosecution argued with vigor that Allen's money was "as much as $1000," another lie. These people were desperate for a conviction for ego gratification and career advancement. Justice was secondary to personal ambition. They took facts out of context. They hid evidence. They placed testifiers on the stand including "star" witness Allen, who committed perjury, triggering my defamation lawsuit. The jurors, the majority of whom were decent, honest folks who simply wanted to get to the bottom of everything, trusted the prosecutors and took their words at face value. They believed they had no reason to be bamboozled or deceived. I felt the same, frankly. But we were fooled.
The prosecutors knew full well Allen didn't give me a thousand, that the amount was far less and close to the $100 I stated all along. My words fell on deaf ears as the FBI and prosecutors were more interested in a big, juicy scandal. Something to sink their fangs into. An e-mail dated Oct. 3, 2007, between prosecutors, mysteriously turned up AFTER the trial, written just three weeks before it commenced. It exposed their serious concerns that Allen's gift was indeed very small -- "only a hundred" they said -- and that the evidence didn't validate their claims during trial of a much larger amount. Yet they concealed the evidence anyway, hoping not to get caught since they were determined to achieve a conviction, even if it meant cheating. This e-mail was part of the 6,500 pages of evidence hidden by the prosecutors, which my attorney and I were unaware existed until twenty months later and not until after I sat rotting in a prison cell for a full year. Yet they argued deceptively that the dollar amount was much greater, with full knowledge that they were leading the jury astray. No surprise. The people should be stripped of their jobs and Bar Association credentials as a start, as they have no business being in court judging and prosecuting others.
March 15th was a significant day. That's when the government was forced to disclose a court-appointed investigator's 500-page criminal inquiry report of the five prosecutors in both Sen. Stevens' case and mine. The investigation centered on Stevens, and the prosecutors' deliberate concealment of evidence prior to his trial and convictions. It has exposed the breach of conduct and illegal acts by these so-called public servants. They've fought hard in court recently with crocodile tears to block the material from public disclosure, citing "fairness." What did they have to hide by hiring attorneys to stand in our way? Why would they block the truth? It's ludicrous. They had little interest treating me or Stevens with fairness by hiding reams of evidence which would have exonerated me at trial, and probably Stevens, but when they themselves were found in the crosshairs of criticism and allegations of wrong-doing, they cried about being treated fairly. What hypocrisy.
One of the government's snitches ("informants" as they preferred to be called) named Frank Prewitt, the guy who was bought off by the government for $200,000 to testify against me in hopes of securing a conviction (they held on to his check until a couple days after he testified to make sure he said what they wanted), wrote a book about all of this, called "The Bridge to Nowhere." In his book, he referred to the prosecution team as people of "integrity." Keep in mind that these are the same people who prosecuted both Ted Stevens and myself and now find themselves in legal hot water over serious misconduct which cost me and Ted dearly. I've never felt so nauseated in my life as I am over that description.
Pictures may be worth a thousand words, and it certainly looked bad on tape for me to receive Allen's money, even as a gift and nothing illegal. I acknowledge the error of my ways and poor judgment, again apologize to my community and accept full responsibility. I should have politely said “no,” thanked Allen for his gesture of friendship and let it go at that.
If I had, it would have saved me five years of terrible distress, thanks to the overly aggressive government prosecutors with nefarious intentions who didn't place a high value on integrity, truth or justice -- but rather satisfying overblown egos.
Before one rushes to judgment, please remember a close factual review should be done before casting stones. The so-called "money shot" was so minor and irrelevant that even the government, famous for taking nearly anything out of context (they would even try to convict a ham sandwich if they stood to gain personally), didn't even pursue it in the final analysis. My plea deal involved something completely different. Yet certain media outlets persisted and pushed the issue so vigorously and with such abandon that people easily swayed became convinced this one image represents guilt. It does not. Taken out and executed over $100? Please!
Vic Kohring represented Wasilla, Chugiak and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley in the Alaska House of Representatives. He was first elected in 1994 and resigned in 2007.
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