Murkowski wants probe of why feds won't prosecute Allen

Sean CockerhamMcClatchy-Tribune News Service

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is asking for an investigation into why the federal Justice Department abandoned the teen sex crimes case against former Veco Corp. Chairman Bill Allen and blocked the state's effort to prosecute Allen.

Murkowski last week wrote to the Justice Department's inspector general and its Office of Professional Responsibility, saying the attorney general has never given a good explanation and the decision needs to be investigated.

"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 ... Only an objective, thorough and independent investigation whose conclusions are made public will bring closure to these questions," she wrote.

Murkowski wrote the letter the day before Thanksgiving and has not heard back. "With the letter having been sent over the holiday weekend, we anticipate their processing protocol is sluggish. We do, though, anticipate a response," said Murkowski spokesman Matt Felling.

Murkowski said in an interview Monday that she's long been trying to find out what happened with the Allen case.

"I've done it privately in my office, sitting down with the powers that be, I have done it formally on the record in hearings, I have done it in letters with follow-up phone calls. And the responses I've received have been wholly inadequate."

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter Monday. Allen himself was released last week from a New Mexico halfway house after serving a sentence starting in January 2010 for bribing state lawmakers.

Allen was the key government witness in the botched federal investigation of corruption in Alaska politics. He testified at the trials of two state lawmakers and of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, whose 2008 conviction was thrown out by a judge because federal prosecutors failed to turn over evidence to the defense that would have helped Stevens.

The Justice Department's questionable behavior included withholding information from defense lawyers about the sex-abuse allegations against Allen that could have made him less credible to jurors, a recent report from a special prosecutor found.

Allen, 74, pursued teenage girls during his rise to the top of Alaska's business and political world, according to investigators.

Anchorage police detectives said they spent several years on the case, working with a prosecutor from the Justice Department's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, and planned to go to a federal grand jury and allege Allen violated the federal Mann Act.

The Mann Act forbids transporting a person across state lines for the purposes of prostitution and has tough penalties if that person is a minor. One of Allen's accusers was a woman who said she first met Allen when she was working as a 15-year-old prostitute in Spenard. In interviews with FBI agents, Anchorage police and prosecutors, the woman said Allen flew her multiple times from Seattle to Anchorage for sex when she was 16.

But the Justice Department squashed the Mann Act case in 2010, despite the recommendation by the prosecutor and his supervisor that a grand jury hear it.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder shed little light on the decision to drop the case when Murkowski asked him about it at a Senate hearing in March.

"I just want to assure you ... and the people of Alaska that you might not agree with the decisions that have been made in connection with cases that have come before the Department of Justice," Holder said.

"But the decisions had nothing to do with political connections, whether somebody's cooperated in a case or something like that," Holder said at the time. "The decisions were made only on the basis of the facts, the law, and the principles that we have to apply. Nothing beyond that entered into any decisions that we have made."

State prosecutors opened their own review of the Allen case. The state's top prosecutor, Richard Svobodny, wrote federal prosecutors last November asking for FBI records on the matter and offering to take on the federal case. When the offer was refused, Svobodny met with federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C., to make the plea in person.

Svobodny was again turned down, saying the federal prosecutors alluded to the fact that Allen had been convicted and sentenced on another crime. Murkowski, in her letter last week to the Justice Department, said that reasoning appears to run counter to the attorney general's statement in March that "if a case can be made, a case would be brought."

No state law is comparable to the federal Mann Act prohibition on transporting people across state lines for illegal sex acts. So the state needed the feds to agree before it could take on the matter.

The legal age for consensual sex in Alaska is 16 and prosecutors weren't able to corroborate that any of Allen's accusers had sex with him at 15 or younger. So without the Mann Act charge, state prosecutors say, the matter is essentially closed.

Murkowski said Monday she was spurred to act in part by last week's release of a report in which a special prosecutor found widespread and sometimes intentional misconduct by Justice Department attorneys in the Stevens case and other Alaska corruption cases. Murkowski said that raises even more questions about how Allen's case was handled.

Reach Sean Cockerham at or 257-4344.

Anchorage Daily News /