WASILLA, Alaska (AP) _ A state lawmaker accused of selling his vote to oil businessmen said Tuesday he would give up his House seat to focus on his defense against federal bribery and extortion charges.
``I take the job as a legislator very seriously, but my life is on the line, so I have chosen to defend myself so I can prevail in court,'' Rep. Vic Kohring told The Associated Press. ``It's a very, very ugly decision to have to make, frankly.''
Kohring and two former state lawmakers were indicted May 4 on federal bribery and extortion charges related to alleged dealings with Anchorage-based oil field services company VECO Corp.
Federal prosecutors accuse the lawmakers of selling their votes to VECO officials while they were considering a rewrite of the state's petroleum production tax, which could have levied a 20% tax on profits and a 20% credit on capital investments.
VECO executives Bill Allen and Rick Smith pleaded guilty May 7 to federal charges of bribery and conspiracy. They have since resigned their positions but have not yet been scheduled for sentencing.
Kohring and former Republican Reps. Pete Kott and Bruce Weyhrauch all have pleaded not guilty and have had their original July trial dates pushed back to the fall.
Kohring, a Republican, announced his July 19 resignation in a prepared speech in a banquet room filled with more than 200 people attending a Greater Wasilla Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
``Resigning by no means suggests guilt. It simply means I take the federal charges extremely seriously and intend to make every effort to prove I'm innocent in court,'' Kohring said. ``I honestly, in my heart, feel that I am innocent.''
Outside the Chamber of Commerce luncheon, nearly 50 people carrying signs that read ``Resign Now Vic'' gathered on the road leading to the hotel where the luncheon was held.