Federal authorities investigating public corruption in Alaska recently peppered the North Pacific commercial fishing industry with grand jury subpoenas seeking financial records and other documents.
"The United States Department of Justice is conducting an official criminal investigation of suspected felonies," a cover letter on the subpoenas begins. It's signed by attorneys in the department's Public Integrity Section.
The subpoenas seek documents connected with two people: state Sen. Ben Stevens of Anchorage and local attorney Trevor McCabe, a former fisheries aide to Stevens' father, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. The subpoenas also seek documents in connection with seven other entities, including law firms or fishing industry organizations.
It's not known how many subpoenas federal authorities issued or whether they all seek the same materials. But they seem to indicate a widening of a federal probe that first burst into view in late August when FBI agents searched the offices of six state legislators including Ben Stevens.
On Dec. 7, state Rep. Tom Anderson was arrested after a federal grand jury in Anchorage indicted him on corruption charges including extortion, bribery and money laundering. Prosecutors say he took thousands of dollars in exchange for using his position to advance the goals of a private prison company. Anderson has pleaded not guilty.
When the public corruption probe first broke, it appeared to be aimed at lawmaker dealings with the state's most lucrative industry, oil and gas. Anderson and Ben Stevens had both worked as consultants for Anchorage-based oil field services firm Veco Corp.
Now the state's vast commercial fishing industry -- much of it headquartered in Seattle -- seems to be a major area of interest for investigators, based on reports of numerous subpoenas served on industry players in mid-November.
"I can confirm that there's been a general subpoena put out to a number of entities in the fishing industry," said John Bundy, president of Glacier Fish Co., a Seattle-based firm that operates fishing ships in the Bering Sea.
Bundy, a member of the federal council that helps regulate major fisheries off Alaska, declined to say whether his own company received a subpoena, or to name others.
He said he hopes people won't conclude the fishing business is plagued with corruption just because federal agents distributed some demands for information.
"It seems like it's kind of routine," Bundy said. "I don't think the fishing industry is crooked at all."
Several other fishing company executives or spokesmen declined to say whether they had received a subpoena, or would confirm it only on the condition of remaining nameless.
"I got one. It's no big deal. Just about everybody did, everybody in the North Pacific Crab Association. And they spelled my name wrong," said Greg Blakey, who owns a small seafood processing company, Snopac Products Inc. of Seattle.
The crab association, a nonprofit registered in Washington state, was formed in 2001 by the major Bering Sea king and snow crab processing companies to push for federal legislation to divide the dangerous fisheries into individual shares, or quotas, for boat owners and processing plant owners.
Ted Stevens, acting on the unanimous recommendation of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, pushed through legislation that last year created the individual quotas, which are tradable and highly valuable.
Ben Stevens, in his legislative financial disclosure statements, has listed tens of thousands of dollars in earnings for acting as a consultant to the North Pacific Crab Association. Ben Stevens, himself a former crab boat captain, reported making $24,000 from the association in 2005 and $42,000 in 2004.
Blakey said he and his company haven't had any direct dealings with Ben Stevens.
He said federal agents, one of whom was a fisheries enforcement officer, visited his office and hand-delivered the subpoena. Although it gave a deadline of Dec. 5 to either produce the records in person before the grand jury or mail them in, Blakey said prosecutors extended his deadline to Jan. 9.
Rob Zuanich, the Seattle executive director for a salmon fishing trade group called the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association, said his organization received a subpoena. Zuanich's business partner, Bob Thorstenson Jr., earlier told the Daily News another seine group he heads also received a subpoena.
The association and related groups have been seeking a federal buyout of some of the boats in the Southeast Alaska seine fleet, the idea being to increase catches and profits for those boats that remain in the business.
The seiners have employed both Ben Stevens and McCabe to help lobby for the buyout, Zuanich and Thorstenson said.
A major ocean bill Congress passed this month, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, contains a provision for a $25 million federal loan to finance the Southeast seiner buyout. The bill is named in part for Ted Stevens.
A copy of one of the subpoenas obtained by the Daily News requests all e-mails, bank and credit card statements, contracts and many other types of documents concerning:
Ben Stevens, his consulting firm Stevens & Associates, McCabe and his law office, and Advance North, a partnership between Stevens and McCabe.
The Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, an agency created with legislation Ted Stevens pushed to administer tens of millions of dollars in grants to salmon processors and others struggling with an industry downturn. Ben Stevens formerly chaired the organization's board of directors.
Robertson, Monagle & Eastaugh, a law firm with offices in Alaska and Washington, D.C., that includes Brad Gilman, a long-time lobbyist for fishing companies and communities.
The Southeast Alaska Seiners Association and the Southeast Revitalization Association.
The subpoena also requests all documents regarding "any attempt by you or your members" to obtain funds from the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, or to secure a fleet buyout.
It also asks for all documents concerning "anything of value provided to any elected public official."
Daily News reporter Wesley Loy can be reached at email@example.com or 257-4590.