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Ben Stevens told he won't face federal corruption charges

Richard Mauer

Ben Stevens has been told he's off the hook in the rapidly fading Alaska political corruption investigation, according to people with knowledge of the case.

Family friends of Stevens, the former Alaska Senate president and son of the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, say he's recently received a letter from federal prosecutors that he won't face charges. A government source who spoke only on background confirmed that the letter was sent and that the long-running investigation has concluded without an indictment.

At the door of their family home in South Anchorage on Wednesday, Stevens' wife, Elizabeth, reviewed a draft of this story and said Stevens would have no comment.

Stevens, 52, was one of six state legislators whose offices were raided by the FBI on Aug. 31, 2006. Four were eventually charged and convicted.

In 2007, Stevens was identified as the recipient of bribes in the charges to which two officials of Veco Corp., Bill Allen and Rick Smith, pleaded guilty.

While Stevens served in the Legislature, he disclosed that Veco, an oil field services company long active in Alaska politics, paid him $243,250 between 2002 and 2006 for "consulting." But he never would say what work he did for the money, even after a citizen complained to the Alaska Public Offices Commission that the fees were thinly disguised bribes.

On the witness stand in the 2007 trial of former House Speaker Pete Kott, Smith, a Veco vice president, was asked which state senators he had bribed.

"That would be Ben Stevens and John Cowdery," Smith testified. (Cowdery pleaded guilty to conspiracy in 2008.)

Federal authorities also investigated Stevens over the hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees paid to him by fishing interests that benefited from legislation promoted by his father in Congress.

Ben Stevens always denied wrongdoing, though he would never answer reporters' questions about the allegations.

Ted Stevens was indicted in Washington, D.C., in 2008 for failing to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from Allen and Veco, marking the most significant development in the Alaska investigation. Rep. Don Young was also under investigation over his acceptance of Veco money.

A jury found Ted Stevens guilty on all counts and, weeks later, Alaska voters turned him out of office in the 2008 election.

But the case would eventually prove the undoing of the Alaska investigation. In 2009, the Justice Department moved to dismiss the charges against Ted Stevens, admitting it failed to turn over evidence to the defense that would have helped Stevens, including information that would have undermined the credibility of Veco's Allen, the government's star witness.

The prosecution team and lead FBI agent also faced misconduct allegations from an FBI whistleblower.

Two investigations of the investigators were ordered: an internal inquiry by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, and another by a special prosecutor appointed by the judge in the Stevens case. No results from those investigations have been announced and they may still be ongoing.

Among the revelations that wrecked Allen's credibility were reports that Anchorage police had investigated him for having sex with underage girls. There was also evidence that he sought to prevent disclosure of his activities by trying to get two witnesses to perjure themselves, one of whom he moved out of Alaska to dodge a state court subpoena.

The Alaska prosecutions had been managed in the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section in Washington, D.C., but that office underwent a housecleaning by the incoming Obama administration. Justice Department officials decided to send Ben Stevens' case to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Portland, Ore., for an independent review by a prosecutor there. That prosecutor, Kent Robinson, interviewed witnesses and subpoenaed documents.

Meanwhile, one of Ted Stevens' Washington, D.C., attorneys, Rob Cary, took over Ben Stevens' defense. (Ted Stevens died in a plane crash a year ago at age 86.)

Asked last week about receiving a "no-prosecution" letter for his client, Cary said he couldn't comment. Another attorney who has represented Ben Stevens, John Wolfe of Seattle, didn't return several calls.

Robinson, an assistant U.S. attorney in Portland, also said he couldn't comment.

The case against Rep. Young also evaporated. He announced in August 2010 that he had received a letter from the Justice Department saying he wouldn't be prosecuted. Young reported spending more than $1 million in campaign contributions on unspecified legal fees.

Only two prosecutions are publicly active. Former Alaska Reps. Pete Kott and Vic Kohring are facing retrials later this year after their 2007 convictions were overturned. Both are seeking to have their cases thrown out altogether.

In a motion filed Tuesday, an attorney for Kott, Sheryl Gordon McCloud, said she's convinced there will be no more new cases to come out of the investigation, dubbed "Polar Pen" by the FBI.

"As far as we are aware, the government has now abandoned all other Polar Pen-related investigations and prosecutions," she wrote. In an interview, she declined to discuss what led her to that conclusion.

Reach Richard Mauer at rmauer@adn.com or 257-4345.


By RICHARD MAUER
rmauer@adn.com
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