Why aren't VECO execs Allen, Smith in prison?

Posted: Sunday, March 09, 2008

It's time for Bill Allen and Rick Smith to go to jail.

Allen and Smith, former executives for oil field contractor VECO, pleaded guilty on bribery, extortion and conspiracy charges last May. Nearly a year later, the two have yet to serve any time. In fact, they have yet to be sentenced federal prosecutors recently requested their sentencing be postponed indefinitely.

This is a case of justice delayed being justice denied.

Prosecutors have cited cooperation of Allen and Smith into the ongoing corruption investigation, and have requested to keep the two out of jail while the FBI, IRS and Department of Justice continue to look into the scandal.

Already, the testimony of Allen and Smith has resulted in indictments against former state legislators Pete Kott, Vic Kohring and Bruce Weyhrauch, and Jim Clark, the chief of staff to former gov. Frank Murkowski. Their claims have implicated a number of other lawmakers, including former state Senate President Ben Stevens, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, and U.S. Rep. Don Young.

But of the bunch, only one Pete Kott, one of the smallest fish to be caught in the net is currently incarcerated. Kohring was convicted late last year, but his sentencing was postponed while his claims of a conflict of interest concerning Judge John Sedwick were examined. Weyhrauch, indicted last May, has yet to go to trial. He was scheduled to stand trial with Kott, but after the judge separated their trials, his has been delayed pending a decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Clark pleaded guilty this week and, because of his agreement to cooperate with investigators, has his sentencing scheduled for September.

Ben Stevens, Ted Stevens and Young have yet to be charged with any wrongdoing.

Which brings us back to Allen and Smith, who, according to all accounts, are the common thread in this web of deceit. How long do two admitted felons get to walk free? When their guilty pleas were entered, prosecutors recommended sentences of 10 years and fines of $150,000 for each. That sentence takes into consideration their cooperation with the government in the case. The government is not delaying a mere slap on the wrist. The crimes to which Allen and Smith have admitted call for maximum sentences of 20 years in prison and fines of up to $750,000.

Allen and Smith first began cooperating with investigators in August 2006. In court filings, government prosecutors have stated that a substantial amount of work in the investigation remains to be done, and postponement of sentencing gives the defendants "time to fully realize the benefit of (their) cooperation."

Just how long should Allen and Smith "benefit" from their cooperation with the government? When weighed against their crimes, the time they've had since their admission of guilt is more than enough.

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