updated 5/4/2007 9:24:20 PM ET 2007-05-05T01:24:20

One current and two former Alaska legislators pleaded not guilty Friday on federal charges they accepted bribes or the promise of future work to benefit an Alaska-based oil services company.

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Rep. Victor Kohring, a Republican from Wasilla, was charged with extortion, attempted extortion, bribery and conspiracy, according to a federal grand jury indictment unsealed Friday.

Earlier Friday, two former lawmakers, Republicans Pete Kott of Eagle River and Bruce Weyhrauch of Juneau, each entered their pleas to four counts, including conspiracy to commit extortion, extortion, bribery and fraud.

All were arrested after being indicted for allegedly trying to benefit an oil services company during discussions last year of a proposed petroleum profits tax, according to the federal documents.

The company is not named in court papers. However, Amy Menard, an attorney representing VECO Corp. in this investigation, told The Associated Press on Friday that the Anchorage-based corporation is involved and cooperating.

"VECO is 'Company A,'" she said, referring to how the indictment refers to the oil services company.

"VECO has been cooperating since day one, since it learned of the investigation. The government has indicated to the company that it is satisfied with the cooperation and is looking forward to continued cooperation," she said.

The company has turned over more than 100,000 pages of documents to investigators.

Kohring is accused of demanding and accepting from VECO CEO Bill Allen and a company vice president, Rick Smith, up to $2,600 in cash and a $3,000 job for a relative to support the then-proposed tax bill and the natural gas pipeline. The indictment also alleges Kohring sought but did not receive a $17,000 loan for credit card debt.

Kott and Weyhrauch both entered not guilty pleas in U.S. District Court on Friday.

55 years possible for ex-lawmakers
A combined trial was set for Kott and Weyhrauch for July 9 in Anchorage. Each of the ex-lawmakers facing up to 55 years in prison and a $1 million fine if convicted of all charges. A trial date was not set for Kohring following his late afternoon court appearance.

All were to be released Friday on $20,000 unsecured bonds.

Kott was accused of accepting $8,993 in payments, $2,750 in campaign polling expenses and a future contract as a lobbyist in exchange for his support of both the tax and proposed gas pipeline, according to the indictment.

The production tax passed, but the contract for the pipeline negotiated by former Gov. Frank Murkowski and BP PLC, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil was never approved.

According to the court documents, Kott told Smith, "I need a job," and he replied, "You've got a job, get us a pipeline."

Kott also voiced his desire for the warden's position at a prison VECO was constructing in Barbados, according to the indictment.

The court papers also allege Kott explicitly linked his support of the gas pipeline and PPT tax issues in exchange to benefits from the company: "You'll get your gas line, the governor gets his bill, and I'll get my job in Barbados."

Weyhrauch is charged with helping advance VECO's cause in exchange for the promise of future legal work for VECO, the federal government asserts.

FBI spokesman Eric Gonzalez said the arrests stemmed from an investigation that led federal agents to last summer raid the offices of at least six lawmakers, including Kott and Weyhrauch, in search of ties to VECO.

Kott's son, Peter Kott Jr., declined comment when reached at the family's Eagle River business, and calls left at the Kott and Weyhrauch homes were not immediately returned.

Weyhrauch did not run for re-election to his house seat in November. Kott, a former House speaker, lost a bid to retain his seat in the August primary.

A Juneau attorney, Weyhrauch served two terms in the state House after being elected in 2002.

Weyhrauch rescued after fall from boat
He was recently rescued from an island near Juneau after he fell from his boat and was stranded in the frigid waters near Auke Bay. He swam to shore and spent the night on Coghlan Island before he was found by searchers and airlifted off the island by the Coast Guard.

Weyhrauch served as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and was a member of the House Finance Committee.

After choosing not to seek re-election last year, his seat was won by Rep. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau.

Kott lost his bid for re-election to Rep. Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River, in the August primary after serving in the House for seven terms, beginning in 1992.

Kott blamed his election loss on his long absences from the campaign trail during a series of special sessions called by Murkowski last summer.

Kohring has served seven terms in the House since 1994. A construction worker, he is also chairman of the House Special Committee on Oil and Gas.

Another former state representative, Anchorage Republican Tom Anderson, was indicted in December on federal bribery charges. Anderson, who did not seek re-election, is scheduled for trial June 25.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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