The case against former state Rep. Vic Kohring is part of a much wider investigation into political corruption in Alaska being conducted by the FBI, the IRS and lawyers from the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section.
The investigation, under way in secret since 2004 or earlier, surfaced Aug. 31, 2006, when scores of federal agents, many from other states, served search warrants at more than 20 locations around Alaska, including the offices of six state legislators. Since then, Kohring and two other legislators have been convicted by juries and a fourth is awaiting trial. A lobbyist and the chief of staff to former Gov. Frank Murkowski have pleaded guilty. At the center of the investigation are the chief executive and a vice president of the Alaska-based oil-field services company Veco, now defunct. Both men have pleaded guilty and are cooperating in the investigation. Grand juries continue to hear evidence in Anchorage and Washington, D.C.
Several people and areas are known to be under scrutiny:
Veco's relationship with state legislators. During trials, the Veco executives described bribing or otherwise exerting improper influence over several officials. Among them: former Senate President Ben Stevens, whom Veco officials admitted paying more than $240,000 in phony consulting contracts to act on the company's behalf in the Legislature.
U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens. FBI and IRS agents performed an extensive search of Stevens' Girdwood home in July, and ex-Veco CEO Bill Allen testified in former Rep. Pete Kott's trial that company employees oversaw and provided labor for an extensive remodeling there. The government is also investigating some of his legislation that benefited his son or former staff members.
U.S. Rep. Don Young. In Alaska, Young has been reported to be under scrutiny for ties to Veco and others over his use of earmarks. Veco executives are his largest group of political donors. One of Young's top aides pleaded guilty last year in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, which is still being investigated. And last week, Congress asked the Justice Department to investigate one of Don Young's earmarks, $10 million for an interchange in Florida that would benefit one of his campaign donors. Young has reported spending more than $1 million in campaign funds for legal fees since last year as the investigations of his actions mount.
Fisheries. A number of companies involved with the North Pacific fishing industry received subpoenas from federal investigators asking about their dealings with Ben Stevens (who worked as a consultant in the industry), his ex-partner Trevor McCabe (an ex-aide to Sen. Ted Stevens), the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board (created by Ted Stevens to award federal grants earmarked by Stevens for the industry and chaired for a time by Ben). CIRI, the regional Alaska Native corporation in Anchorage that once had Ben Stevens as a consultant, was also subpoenaed in the investigation, though its officials declined to say what evidence was sought.