GOP rival says Young has questions to answer

Posted: Friday, August 06, 2010

ANCHORAGE - A Republican challenger to U.S. Rep. Don Young said Thursday the veteran congressman should answer questions about a federal corruption investigation, which reportedly has ended with no charges.

Sheldon Fisher said the Alaska Republican needs to address questions about a spending bill earmark that benefited a campaign supporter in Florida.

"I think it's incumbent on Mr. Young to respond," he said.

Fisher, who brands himself a conservative, also wants the Department of Justice to explain why it allegedly has decided not to prosecute Young over connections to an Alaska businessman convicted of bribing state lawmakers.

Fisher said he planned to file a public records request with the DOJ to determine why no federal charges will be pursued. Also on Thursday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington urged the House Ethics Committee to investigate Young, 77.

"The fact that Rep. Young will not be criminally prosecuted does not mean he did nothing wrong," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group. "The congressman must still be held accountable for his misconduct."

Young, who is seeking his 20th term in office, could not immediately be reached for comment. But he told KTVA television in Anchorage that he was disappointed by critics striving to "muckrake things."

"They should congratulate me, very frankly," he said. "Because I've always said that if I had anything to worry about, I would never run. I'm confident in what I've been able to do and where I was from the beginning. And if they have nothing else to run - I wish somebody would say something nice about me instead of always being negative."

The Republican primary is Aug. 24.

DOJ spokeswoman Laura Sweeney refused to comment.

Congress asked the DOJ in 2008 to investigate the Coconut Road earmark, which was inserted into the spending bill Young oversaw as then chairman of the House Transportation Committee. The earmark was slipped in after the bill had been passed by both the House and Senate.

The bill included $10 million to widen a Florida highway. Until it was revised, the final version redirected that money to an interchange that benefited a developer who did some fundraising for Young.

Young also has been under investigation over his ties to figures in a far-reaching investigation of corruption in Alaska. He has declined to discuss the case, saying that's what his attorneys advised.

Alaska's only representative in the House was identified as "United States Representative A" in documents filed in federal court last year in connection with the sentencing of Bill Allen, a central figure in the corruption probes of state lawmakers and former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens. Allen is serving a three-year prison sentence arising from his 2007 guilty plea to bribery, conspiracy and tax charges.

According to the court papers, Young illegally received gifts totaling up to nearly $200,000 over 13 years from VECO Corp., Allen's now-defunct oil field services company. Allen and former VECO vice president Rick Smith authorized corporate funds to pay up to $15,000 a year between 1993 and 2006 for expenses associated with Young's annual pig roast fundraiser, the documents said.

After the federal investigation became known, Young amended his campaign finance reports to show he reimbursed Allen about $38,000 for fundraiser expenses.

Allen was a key witness in the corruption trial of Stevens, who was found guilty in 2008 of failing to disclose gifts from Allen. Charges against Stevens, 86, were thrown out last year after the DOJ acknowledged that it did not turn over evidence favorable to the defense prior to trial.

Of the two cases involving Young, Fisher believes the Coconut Road earmark is by far the most serious. VECO was a question of "improper campaign contributions" while he believes Coconut Road involved bribery and was wrongly modified after it was approved by lawmakers.

"I think that is what troubles me and many of his fellow congressmen, is that unconstitutional abuse of power," he said.

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