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Senator plans to sell land in questioned deal

Announcement comes day after complaint made to ethics panel

Posted: Friday, July 27, 2007

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ANCHORAGE - Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Thursday she and her husband will sell Alaska land back to its former owner, a day after a complaint was made to the Senate ethics committee about the purchase of the riverfront property.

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"While Verne and I intended to make this our family home, and we paid a fair price for this land, no property is worth compromising the trust of the Alaskan people," Murkowski, R-Alaska, said in a prepared statement. "I cannot allow this to become a distraction from the major challenges I face in representing Alaska, so we have decided to sell this property back to Bob Penney at the same price for which it was purchased."

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Murkowski, who did not immediately return calls Thursday seeking further comment, has drawn widespread criticism over her purchase of land late last year along the scenic Kenai River southwest of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula.

Murkowski and her husband, Verne Martell, paid $179,400 to a friend and real estate developer, Bob Penney, for the undeveloped lot local real estate agents said could have fetched as much as $350,000. Penney, who lives two lots from the tract he sold Murkowski and owns the land in between, has said he considered the price paid a fair deal because it was the assessed value at the time.

The National Legal and Policy Center, based in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., filed a 25-page complaint Wednesday with the ethics committee requesting an investigation.

"Under the circumstances, it's a very good thing to do," Ken Boehm, the watchdog group's chairman, said about Murkowkski's decision to sell the property back to Penney. "The fundamental question was why was she able to get such a discount price on such a valuable property."

Boehm said he will not withdraw his group's complaint with the senate committee. He said other issues remain.

Murkowski failed to properly note the purchase in her financial disclosure report for 2006. Boehm said Murkowski also said in the same report that she had a 15-year mortgage when financing records indicate a 39-year loan with First Bank, which offers a seven-year maturity date for loans on undeveloped land.

"There are still things that need to be looked into," he said.

Murkowski was appointed in 2002 and elected to a full term in 2004.

Separately, another Alaska Republican in Congress, Rep. Don Young, is under criminal investigation, a federal law enforcement official said Wednesday.

Part of the probe involves Young's campaign finance practices, an element that would be investigated in Washington, D.C., said an official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The third member of Alaska's congressional delegation, Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, has acknowledged he has been told by authorities to preserve records of a house remodeling project involving an Anchorage-based oil field service company, VECO Corp.

Young, 74 and Alaska's sole representative in the House, was first elected in 1973. Stevens, 83, has been in office since 1968. Both are running for re-election in 2008.



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