WASHINGTON - The Justice Department has agreed to investigate whether there was misconduct involved in federal prosecutors' decision to not prosecute a teen sex crime case against disgraced former Veco Corp. chairman Bill Allen.
The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility wrote Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski telling her it will launch a "preliminary inquiry into the misconduct allegations you have raised."
Murkowski, who released a copy of the letter Friday, wrote the Office of Professional Responsibility and the Justice Department's inspector general in November asking for the investigation.
"The question of why the Justice Department not only declined to pursue sex-abuse charges against Mr. Allen, but also denied the State of Alaska the opportunity to do so, remains a matter of great public interest in the State of Alaska," Murkowski wrote in the November letter.
The Office of Professional Responsibility has the authority to investigate allegations of misconduct involving Justice Department attorneys. Brad Weinsheimer, acting counsel for the office, told Murkowski the inquiry would go ahead and she will be notified "when our determination is complete."
Allen was released in November from a New Mexico halfway house after serving a sentence that began in January 2010 for bribing Alaska lawmakers. Allen was the key government witness in the botched federal investigation of corruption in Alaska politics, testifying at the trials of two state legislators and of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.
Stevens' 2008 conviction was thrown out by a judge because federal prosecutors failed to turn over evidence that would have helped Stevens. The prosecutors' questionable behavior included withholding information from defense lawyers about the teen sex-abuse allegations against Allen that could have made him less credible to jurors.
Anchorage police said they spent several years building the sex-abuse case against Allen. They worked with a federal prosecutor and had planned to seek an indictment on charges that Allen violated the federal Mann Act, which forbids transporting a minor across state lines for "immoral and exploitative purposes."
Among Allen's accusers is a woman who says she first met the powerful Veco chairman when she was a 15-year-old prostitute in Spenard and that he subsequently flew her between Seattle and Anchorage for sex when she was 16 years old. Anchorage detectives spent more than a year corroborating her story, getting a search warrant for the Veco warehouse where she said she regularly had sex with Allen and credit card records showing Allen paid for her trips to Alaska.
But the Justice Department dropped the case in 2010, despite the recommendation by the federal prosecutor and his supervisor that a grand jury hear it.
The Justice Department then refused the request by Alaska state prosecutors to take the case themselves using federal law, killing any chance Allen would be charged.
Attorney General Eric Holder shed little light on the decision to abandon the case when questioned by Murkowski in congressional hearings, saying only that it wasn't because of political connections or Allen's cooperation as a government witness in the Alaska corruption trials.
Murkowski said Friday she wished Holder would have himself initiated a public investigation into why his Justice Department scuttled the case. But she said "it's good to see action finally being taken."