The CEO of an Anchorage, AK-based energy services firm, VECO Corp., and another company official pleaded guilty Monday to bribery and conspiracy charges arising from a federal probe into public corruption of Alaska politicians.

CEO Bill Allen and Rich Smith, vice president of community and governmental affairs, entered guilty pleas to a wide range of charges at separate arraignments in U.S. District Court in Anchorage. The men face the possibility of five years in prison on each conspiracy count and as much as 10 years for bribery, along with a penalty of $250,000 on each charge, federal prosecutors said.

Both Allen and Smitth admitted that they provided more than $400,000 in benefits to public officials in Alaska in connection with the scheme, according to the Justice Department.

The VECO pleas came three days after a current member of the Alaska House of Representatives and two former members, including a one-time speaker of the House, were arrested on charges that they sold their support for natural gas pipeline legislation and an oil tax measure in return for several thousand dollars and other benefits from VECO.

The indictments, which were returned by a federal grand jury in Anchorage last Thursday, named state Rep. Victor Kohring and former Reps. Bruce Weyhrauch and Peter Kott. The men were arrested Friday, and pleaded not guilty at their arraignments. Kott, the former House speaker, and Weyhrauch left the Alaska House earlier this year. If convicted, each man could face up to 35 years in prison and a fine of $750,000 million for extortion, bribery and conspiracy. Kott and Weyhrauch face an additional 20 years in prison and $250,000 fine if convicted of mail and wire fraud counts.

Kohring is alleged to have solicited, demanded and accepted from VECO officials cash payments of $2,100 to $2,600, a $3,000 job for a relative and "other things of value" in exchange for providing support for gas pipeline legislation and a "petroleum production tax" bill.

The indictment did not identify the energy services firm, but an attorney for VECO Corp. confirmed that two company officials were involved -- Allen and Smith. She noted that VECO is cooperating fully with the federal government's investigation.

The "petroleum production tax" bill that was the target of the alleged corruption was passed by the Alaska legislature last year, but the natural gas pipeline deal that was negotiated by former Gov. Frank Murkowski was not approved (see Daily GPI, Aug. 14, 2006).

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