Dates raise questions about former legislator

Posted: Thursday, August 02, 2007

While descriptions in indictments in the VECO Corp. corruption case point to former Senate President Ben Stevens as the unidentified "Senator B" discussed in federal allegations, a little-noticed part of one indictment raises questions about why Stevens would be offered bribes when he wasn't even in office yet.

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In the indictment of VECO founder and Chairman Bill Allen on bribery charges, Allen is accused of "corruptly" making payments to this senator between 1995 and 2001. Stevens became a state senator in 2001.

At that time, the former fishing captain's most prominent role was as the son of powerful U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

The dates of the payments indicate that if Senator B is Stevens, bribes offered during that time were not to gain legislative access.

Former Republican legislator Ray Metcalfe said Stevens may have been offered bribes so VECO could gain access to his father. Metcalfe is an outspoken critic of both Stevens' and VECO's role in Alaska politics.

FBI agents served a search warrant on Ben Stevens' office last year, but he has not been indicted. Federal officials have not said publicly whether he will face indictment. He did not return calls Wednesday, or in recent months.

On Monday, FBI agents raided Stevens' Girdwood home, for the first time publicly linking the long-time Alaska political fixture to the VECO investigation.

Ted Stevens has declined comment on the investigation surrounding him.

"I continue to believe this investigation should proceed to its conclusion without any appearance that I have attempted to influence its outcome," he said in a statement. "The legal process should be allowed to proceed so that all the facts can be established and the truth determined."

Prosecutors with the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Public Integrity, who have been investigating corruption in Alaska, have already won three guilty pleas and one trial conviction of former Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Anchorage. Three other former legislators are awaiting trial, including former Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau.

Allen pleaded guilty to bribing legislators, including the unidentified state "Senator B." He also agreed to cooperate with investigators.

Allen oversaw the remodeling of the Girdwood home on Ted Stevens' behalf, the Anchorage Daily News reported recently.

According to the Allen indictment, "Senator B" took office on 2001. Senate terms all begin on even years, though Ben Stevens was appointed to his seat in 2001 by former Gov. Frank Murkowski, the only senator to join the body that year.

In addition, the Allen plea lists numerous consulting contracts with "Senator B" in which VECO paid the senator to do little or no work, but instead advance the company's and the oil industry's interests in the Alaska Legislature.

The dollar amounts listed in the indictment as being received by "Senator B" match exactly the amounts Ben Stevens listed as receiving under a VECO consulting contract in his financial disclosure filings with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. They total $243,250 over Stevens' five years in the Legislature.

The indictments said Allen "corruptly authorized VECO to engage and pay for on a monthly basis the consulting services of a private company owned by State Senator B, who was, at that time, not an elected public official."

State records show Ben Stevens formed a consulting firm called "Stevens and Associates" in 1995.

The Allen indictment also said Allen discussed prior to 2001 with the state senator the possibility that he would eventually become a VECO executive.

Later, in 2006, when the senator was planning to leave the Legislature, he again discussed a plan to become a VECO executive, the indictment said. Allen and the senator in July 2006 agreed that they needed to keep secret the job offer until after the passage of specific legislation and the end of the legislative term, the indictment said.

In August, the Legislature passed the Petroleum Profits Tax sought by the oil industry. In September, FBI agents served search warrants on the offices of Ben Stevens, VECO, Weyhrauch and several others.

Stevens spokesman Aaron Saunders said Ted Stevens would not comment on his son's involvement with VECO.

"That's fairly clearly part of the investigation, and I wouldn't be able to comment on that," he said.

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