FBI seizes documents from Ben Stevens

Agents raid senator's office for second time in VECO investigation

Posted: Wednesday, September 27, 2006

ANCHORAGE - FBI agents have seized more documents during a second visit to the legislative office of Senate President Ben Stevens, some related to his consulting work for the fisheries industry.

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Stevens acknowledged last week's seizure in a Sept. 22 letter to the Anchorage Daily News denying the newspaper's request for a copy of the FBI search warrant which may have been served on him or his office.

FBI agents initially swept in and out of legislative offices in Anchorage, Juneau and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, answering few questions and carting out boxes labeled "Evidence."

Offices raided included Stevens, R-Anchorage; Sen. John Cowdery, R-Anchorage; Sen. Donald Olson, D-Nome; Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River; Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau; and Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla.

One of the search warrants obtained by The Associated Press links the investigation to a new production tax law, known as PPT, signed in July by Murkowski and the draft natural gas pipeline contract proposed by Murkowski and BP PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips.

That warrant, which was not served on Stevens, also called for seizure of documents concerning any payment, contracts, agreements, gifts or employment provided by VECO Corp. or four executives.

In his letter to the Daily News, Stevens offered what he said was a complete list of what was taken from his offices Aug. 31 and Sept. 18.

Most items seized were public records, such as the 2006 Legislative directory and the 2003 Legislative Ethics Training manual.

Agents also took Stevens' Rolodex containing business cards and a phone log, one computer hard drive and a copy of another, a compact disc and an e-mail found on a printer.

Also taken, Stevens wrote, were binders on the proposed natural gas pipeline and revised oil taxes and information on a board which distributed federal marketing money to fisheries companies, some of which paid him as a consultant. Stevens was chairman of that board until about six months ago.

Stevens also listed a single VECO document - a memo to company President Pete Leathard - seized by agents.

Stevens declined to elaborate further to the newspaper on items seized, and the list of items taken could not be independently verified.

However, Stevens told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he disagreed with how this has been characterized.

"How can they seize documents when I consented to let them go into my office?" he said.

Stevens also wondered why the government wouldn't disclose what items were removed from his office.

The government has said little about the raids, but FBI spokesman Eric Gonzalez did say that Stevens' office was the only one agents searched a second time.

Some materials taken touch on fishery subjects that involve Ben's father, longtime U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who for the last year has chaired the Senate Commerce Committee through which all fisheries legislation passes.

Among fishery-related items taken last week, Ben Stevens said, were a "Victor Smith affidavit" and a 2004 "UFA" letter, an apparent reference to United Fishermen of Alaska.

Smith, a former salmon fisherman, said Monday he signed three affidavits regarding Ben Stevens. They helped form the basis of complaints brought against Ben Stevens at the Alaska Public Offices Commission and other agencies by Ray Metcalfe, founder of the independent Republican Moderate Party in Alaska. It wasn't immediately clear which affidavit was seized.

Also taken by FBI agents were two April 2006 letters Ben Stevens wrote to the U.S. Department of Commerce regarding the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, which he headed from its creation by Ted Stevens in 2003 until his resignation earlier this year, the newspaper reported.

Also seized were a Jan. 23 fax to Ted Stevens along with "unknown documents of Ted Stevens with a cover page dated 6/5/06 bearing the United States Senate seal," Ben Stevens wrote.

Ted Stevens has no comment, his spokesman, Aaron Saunders, told the AP Tuesday.

Ben Stevens owns a consulting business, and has disclosed $775,435 in income from nine companies and associations since 2001.

FBI agents, during both visits to Stevens' office, took documents involving the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, the organization created to provide federal grants to companies to promote Alaska seafood.

At least three of the beneficiaries of grants from the board paid consulting fees to Ben Stevens, the newspaper reported. Stevens resigned from that board about six months ago, said its executive director, Bill Hines.

Hines declined to comment whether he's spoken to federal agents. "I think that's between me and the FBI," Hines told the Daily News.

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Information from: Anchorage Daily News, http://www.adn.com



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