House aide helped FBI investigate congressmen

Posted: Friday, November 19, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C., revealed this week a former aide to Rep. Don Young helped the FBI investigate two congressmen.

The information is contained in a motion seeking a reduced sentence at next week's sentencing of Mark Zachares, the Anchorage Daily News reported Thursday.

Zachares pleaded guilty in 2007 to fraud related to undisclosed gifts and travel he received from lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The two congressmen are not identified by name, only as Congressman A and Congressman B. The FBI dropped both investigations.

Zachares, who was special counsel to Don Young on the House Transportation Committee, had faced 18 to 24 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. But the Justice Department says he should get credit for "substantial assistance to the government in the investigation of other matters," reducing his potential sentence to 12 to 18 months.

Judges are not bound by the guidelines, and Zachares himself is seeking probation. Prosecutors acknowledged that Zachares' cooperation was "complete, forthcoming and truthful in every instance."

According to Zachares' plea, he was a former top official of the Northern Mariana Islands government, a U.S. possession in the Pacific, when Abramoff was lobbying on its behalf. When Zachares returned to the mainland, Abramoff tried to place him in a job where he could help the lobbyist and his clients. Zachares landed on the House Transportation Committee where Young was chairman, working there from 2002 to 2004.

After Zachares agreed to plead guilty, he "cooperated extensively and usefully in the investigation of Congressman A for accepting things of value from lobbyist Jack Abramoff," the Justice Department said. Zachares provided eyewitness evidence about the congressman's travel and receipt of expense payments from Abramoff. Zachares also conducted "expert research" on legislation as part of that investigation and secretly recorded a telephone conversation with another witness to Congressman A's travels.

But prosecutors halted their investigation of Congressman A over the Constitution's Speech or Debate privilege, which makes it difficult for the executive branch, including the Justice Department, to prosecute someone from Congress when legislation is involved.

In the case of Congressman B, Zachares tipped off the FBI to lobbyist-paid travel and expenses previously unknown to investigators. Though the investigation of that congressman was "extensive," it was halted "as a result of legal and evidentiary issues."

A Justice Department spokeswoman wouldn't comment about the identities of either representative. The motion for reduced sentence said that prosecutors would only discuss the issue in closed court. Zachares' attorney, Ed MacMahon, said he couldn't talk about the investigations.

Young himself was under investigation by the FBI for several years. While one focus of that investigation was on gifts and excessive campaign contributions in Alaska by the defunct oil field service company Veco, other issues had arisen as well, including allegations he inserted money for a Florida interchange in a highway bill after receiving campaign contributions from a developer.

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