Ethics panel investigating Rep. Young gifts, campaign funds

Sean Cockerham | Tribune Media Services
Rep. Don Young greets supporters at Election Central at the Dena'ina Center on November 6, 2012 in Anchorage, Alaska. Marc Lester

WASHINGTON -- The House ethics committee is investigating Alaska Rep. Don Young over allegations of wrongly taking gifts, using campaign funds for personal purposes and lying to federal officials.

The ethics committee said Tuesday it was creating an investigative subcommittee to determine whether Young broke the law or House rules. The decision to move forward with the investigation follows an initial probe by the ethics panel in which it reviewed evidence against Young.

Young declined an interview request to discuss the allegations.

"We have no comment at this time," said Young spokesman Michael Anderson, adding that Young has cooperated with investigators and will continue to do so.

The allegations are that Young "or persons acting on his behalf, improperly obtained, received or accepted gifts, improperly used official resources or campaign funds for personal purposes, failed to report certain gifts on his annual Financial Disclosure Statements, and made false statements to federal officials."

Young has been dogged for years by corruption investigations. At one point, the Justice Department even drew up a draft indictment that included the synopsis that "Donald Young, in his capacity as Congressman of Alaska, accepted and expected things of value (trips, meals, golf etc.) from lobbyists, and in exchange, he would provide them with official actions (meetings, letters, legislation.)." The indictment wasn't used and Young has not been charged.

Young was under investigation by the FBI for at least four years. That FBI inquiry concluded with a 2010 memo. "It was determined that there was not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to ultimately convict Congressman Young," the memo said.

The ethics committee said Tuesday that it has received a referral from the Justice Department with information about Young's expenses and travel costs. "The committee has reviewed the referral without prejudice or presumptions as to the merit of the allegations," the panel said.

Young, a Republican, has been Alaska's lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 1973. The 79-year-old Young has already announced plans to run in 2014 for what would be his 22nd term in the House.

Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Patrick Meehan will lead the subcommittee investigating him. The other members of the panel are Texas Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry and Massachusetts Democratic Reps. Michael Capuano and William Keating.

The ethics committee would not comment on the specifics of the charges or anything else regarding the probe.

Young, if found guilty of violating congressional rules, could face sanctions including a letter of reprimand from the ethics committee, a censure or reprimand by the full House, and a fine. The committee could also send its findings to the Justice Department and Federal Elections Commission if it decides that Young has committed criminal violations.

The FBI's investigation covered Young's connections to the disgraced oil-field service contractor Bill Allen and his Veco Corp. It also dealt with the revelation that Young or someone from his office had changed the 2005 transportation bill after it passed Congress. The changed version of the bill funded start-up work sought by a Young campaign contributor who wanted an interchange built in Florida.

A former aide to Young also told the investigators in 2008 that Young and his wife, Lu, used campaign funds for personal expenses including meals and travel.

"The Youngs don't think they should have to pay for anything when they are in Alaska including dinners, laundry and dry cleaning," the unnamed former aide is quoted as saying in documents that a judge ordered released last year to the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics and Washington.

The former aide alleged that Young's wife, who died in 2009, would usually receive $300 checks from campaign funds at the start of each of the couple's trips to Alaska.

The Justice Department documents said the former aide also told investigators that campaign funds paid for chartered flights to Fort Yukon, Alaska, where Young has a small house and was building a second house. The flights at one point were full of building supplies, and no campaign events took ever place in Fort Yukon, the former Young aide told the criminal investigators.

The former aide also described a portrait unveiling in Washington, D.C., that was associated with Young becoming chairman of the House transportation committee.

"Arrangements were made in 2002 for the Young family to travel from Anchorage to D.C. on a FEDEX jet at a cost of $17,000 for approximately 13 people. ...Young knew of the arrangements and that the costs were covered by the campaign," the former aide said.

It's not clear from the heavily blacked-out documents what investigators did with the allegations about Young's misuse of campaign funds. Young, through his lawyer, has denied them as well as any other wrongdoing.

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Statement of the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Ethics Regarding Representative Don Young
Anchorage Daily News