Before the government's sudden move Wednesday to drop its case against former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, federal prosecutors were unbeatable on public corruption in Alaska.
A dozen people charged since December 2006. Eleven convictions. One case awaiting trial.
Minus Stevens, the conviction count drops to 10.
Now questions are swirling about whether the taint over the ex-senator's case threatens other convictions, and whether it derails what's left of the investigation.
The official word from the FBI Wednesday: The investigation into Alaska public corruption remains active.
"We're going to continue working," said Eric Gonzalez, chief counsel for the FBI in Alaska.
Still, as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder noted Wednesday, the actions of the prosecution team that gained the Stevens conviction also are under investigation -- by the U.S. Justice Department.
"The Department's Office of Professional Responsibility will conduct a thorough review of the prosecution of this matter. This does not mean or imply that any determination has been made about the conduct of those attorneys who handled the investigation and trial of this case," Holder said in a written statement.
Once that inquiry is complete, the government will share the findings with U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who is presiding over the Stevens case.
Defense lawyers for others caught up in the corruption investigation say they want to see what the inquiry turns up.
"To accurately forecast the impact that the Ted Stevens dismissal will have upon other cases, not yet indicted, we need to have a better understanding of what the Office of Professional Responsibility finds about the integrity of the investigative process," said John Wolfe, a Seattle lawyer who represents former Alaska Senate President Ben Stevens.
Ben Stevens' legislative office was one of six raided by the FBI in August 2006 when the corruption investigation first burst into public view. The son of Ted Stevens, Ben was a paid consultant for oil field services company Veco Corp. at the same time he was a legislator. Records show Veco paid him $252,000 from 2001 through 2005. He hasn't been charged in the corruption investigation.
"Ben Stevens is as adamant today as he has been that he's innocent of any wrongdoing and believes that this may represent a turning point in the department's thinking about this case," Wolfe said Wednesday.
Efforts Wednesday to reach lawyers for former state Reps. Pete Kott and Vic Kohring, who are in prison and appealing their corruption convictions, were unsuccessful. But the defense lawyers have said in the past they were monitoring the turmoil in the Stevens case.
Stevens' case unraveled quickly after a new team of federal prosecutors began reviewing the evidence. They discovered that what a chief witness initially told the government didn't match his testimony at trial on one key point -- and defense lawyers were never told of the discrepancy. That was just the latest revelation of problems in the case.
The witness is Bill Allen, former head of Veco Corp. Allen's lawyer, former U.S. Attorney Bob Bundy, said he wouldn't discuss Allen's testimony in detail but "I don't think that any investigation's going to show that anything that Bill Allen said is untruthful." Allen has pleaded guilty to three felonies and is awaiting sentencing.
Wev Shea, another former U.S. attorney for Alaska, said Wednesday he's been trying for months to call attention to what he calls the corrupt prosecution of Stevens, but only got a forum for his views on the Alaska Dispatch blog and the Mike Porcaro radio show.
"I think the media coverage was totally disgraceful," Shea said. "I am outraged and I am really frustrated."
He said the Stevens case involves "the worst prosecutorial misconduct I've ever seen." He said the FBI agents and prosecutors who did wrong should be fired, "and a close look should be made at prosecuting them."
A Washington, D.C., defense lawyer who has been following the Stevens case said the string of breaches by prosecutors in the case is serious, and that careers will likely suffer. But David Douglass doesn't see any criminal behavior by prosecutors.
"The question in this case is whether the prosecutors were overzealous or overwhelmed," said Douglass, who chairs the white collar crime committee of a defense lawyers' professional group called DRI. "These prosecutors have fine reputations. I just don't think there was a deliberate, bad intention. Obviously, we'll see."
The action by Holder to dismiss such a high profile case signals not only that he saw serious problems, but also that he has set high standards for prosecutors, Douglass said.
Last year after Stevens was convicted, FBI agent Chad Joy filed a whistle-blower complaint accusing the lead agent on the case of becoming too close to sources. Joy also asserted that prosecutors had failed to turn over favorable evidence to Stevens' defense team, and sent a witness home before he could testify, issues aired during the trial.
The original prosecution team was replaced in February after Sullivan held the lead trial lawyer on the case, her supervisor, and an appellate lawyer in contempt of court for failing to turn over internal files about Joy to the defense.
Sullivan was considering taking testimony about Joy's complaint as well as a separate complaint by a government witness.
Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390.