Investigation backs prosecutors in Allen sex crime allegations

Sean Cockerham | Tribune Media Services

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department said Friday that its investigators found no misconduct in the decision of federal prosecutors to abandon the teen sex crime case against disgraced former Veco Corp. chairman Bill Allen, the government's star witness in the failed prosecution of then-Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility launched an inquiry into the Allen case at the request of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who says the government should not have let Allen off the hook.

Assistant Attorney General Ronald Welch said in a letter to Murkowski that the department's inquiry "found no evidence that the Criminal Division's decision to decline prosecution of Mr. Allen was predicated on corrupt, improper, or impermissible considerations."

"Indeed, the decision appears well within the legitimate exercise of prosecutorial discretion, and was based upon application of the Principles of Federal Prosecution, which includes an evaluation of witness credibility and due process considerations," he wrote.

Welch's letter didn't say why Allen wasn't charged. He wrote that Justice Department officials have wide discretion in whether to pursue charges and the Office of Professional Responsibility didn't question that.

"OPR does not investigate the legitimate exercise of prosecutorial discretion by Department attorneys unless there is evidence that the deciding officials' discretion was exercised corruptly or was based upon improper considerations," he wrote. "As a result, OPR's inquiry into the Allen matter was limited to determining whether the Department's decision not to prosecute Mr. Allen was based on improper factors beyond the legitimate exercise of prosecutorial discretion."

Murkowski said Friday she wasn't satisfied and wants to know the reasons the Justice Department dropped the teen sex crime case against Allen.

"This is not the thorough evaluation that Alaskans deserve," she said. "There are many legitimate reasons that a case can be discontinued, but the more the Justice Department refuses to communicate their reasoning, the more they allow Alaskans to think the worst."

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, who was close friends with Allen. Stevens' 2008 conviction was thrown out by a federal judge because the prosecutors failed to turn over evidence to the defense that would have helped Stevens.

The Justice Department's questionable behavior included withholding information from Stevens' defense lawyers about the teen sex-abuse allegations against Allen that could have made him less credible to jurors, according to a special prosecutors' report on the case.

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 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 quashed the Mann Act case in 2010, despite the recommendation by the prosecutor as well as his supervisor that a grand jury hear it.

State prosecutors then opened their own review of the Allen case. The state's top prosecutor, Richard Svobodny, wrote federal prosecutors 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.

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

Welch's letter to Murkowski said the state wasn't allowed to prosecute because "the Department concluded it would be inappropriate to cross-designate state prosecutors as federal prosecutors to bring federal charges arising from the same set of facts that the Department determined did not warrant federal prosecution."

Allen did plead guilty to unrelated charges of bribing state lawmakers and served a sentence from January 2010 to November 2011.

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