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Ester man sentenced for illegal mining, damage

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Posted: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 7:58 am, Tue Jun 25, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — An Ester gold miner was sentenced Monday to a six-month jail term for building an unauthorized mining road through state and borough land almost two years ago and for intentionally damaging another miner’s equipment.

Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy handed down the sentence Monday afternoon for Kevin Bergman, 48. Bergman must report to Fairbanks Correctional Center by Sept. 1.

In November, a Fairbanks jury convicted Bergman on two counts of third-degree criminal mischief, a felony, after a 1 1/2 days of testimony. When handing down the sentence, McConahy said he agreed with prosecutors that Bergman’s actions were among the worst examples of third-degree criminal mischief, the crime of intentionally doing at least $500 in damage to someone else’s property.

McConahy said he felt “guarded” about Bergman’s rehabilitation potential, in part because Bergman has not taken responsibility for the vandalism. He said he delayed the jail term until September so Bergman can get his affairs together before beginning his sentence. He also ordered Bergman to pay more than $40,000 total in restitution.

Bergman attended the sentencing out of custody with his attorney, Jonathan Bidderman, an assistant public defender. Bergman told McConahy he could speak for days about the case. McConahy set a 30-minute time limit.

Bergman maintains his innocence in the two criminal mischief cases. At his sentencing, he also said the Alaska State Troopers have treated him unfairly by forwarding charges against him, but not investigating rival miner Earl Voytilla, whom he accused of vandalizing his property. Rival miners have since assaulted him and approached him with machine guns, he said.

“I’m tired of being threatened with machine guns, I’m tired of being threatened with bulldozers, and I’m tired of being beat up,” he said with a quivering voice. “I’m tired of a lot of stuff, and I’m only going to the police begging for help and they fail to come because they pre-meditated that they’re going to take my claim.”

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Baldock objected to Bergman’s account of Voytilla’s alleged vandalism. He said troopers did investigate Bergman’s complaint and found one damaged sluice box, which could have been previously damaged. He said Bergman’s conspiratorial accounts suggest he needs a mental health evaluation.

“Mr. Bergman has blamed the Department of Natural Resources, he’s blamed the district attorney’s office, he’s blamed the Alaska State Troopers. He’s said the feds are involved at some time, he’s blamed (Superior Court Judge Robert) Downes, he’s blamed everybody,” Baldock said. “Mr. Bergman needs to look in the mirror, and once he does that he can see who’s to blame.”

About halfway through his comments, Bergman’s attorney suggested he speak more about Charity Wheels. The nonprofit enterprise run by Bergman repairs donated vehicles and gives them away to the poor.

At the height of the program’s popularity, Bergman said, he once had 58 vehicles donated in 2 1/2 hours. If he went to jail, the charity would likely fall apart, he said.

In his comments on Bergman’s behalf, Bidderman said it’s unusual for a defendant of Bergman’s age who lacks a criminal record to get in trouble with the law. He asked McConahy not to give Bergman any jail time.

“This is not going through the motions. This is someone who makes community service a central part of his life,” Biderman said. “I don’t know how the state (the prosecutor) can say with a straight face that he belongs behind bars.”

Contact staff writer Sam Friedman 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.

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