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Don Young's fondness for hunting at game ranches detailed in House Ethics documents

Richard Mauer
Olivier Douliery

With trophy heads and pelts lining the walls, Rep. Don Young's Washington office may leave visitors thinking they are in the presence of a master hunter.

And Young himself has done nothing to disabuse anyone of the notion he's a tough wilderness man, once sticking his own hand in an animal trap in a hearing to prove a point, and sometimes telling reporters that he's missed sessions of Congress to stalk wild game.

While Young may be familiar with the bog-slogging and bug-swatting Alaska experience in home-state hunts for moose and caribou, that's not the description of Young's hunting trips contained in the House Ethics report that rebuked him last week.

Those hunting trips, taken by Young when he was elevated to chairman of the House Transportation Committee and became sought after by lobbyists, contractors and developers, were often to luxury lodges where game lived behind fences and was raised to be killed by paying guests -- or, in the case of Young, by a guest whose stay was paid for by someone else.

The Mariposa Ranch in South Texas, for example, offers its guests exclusive hunting on 45,000 acres of scrub and ranchland. An executive of Kellogg, Brown & Root, the engineering firm that paid some of Young's 2006 expenses, described to House investigators how Young hunted nilgai -- an introduced Asian antelope.

"How it's arranged is that it's a 4-door pickup truck, and you have a guide who's driving you around, and these things are very skittish animals and they know the sound and the look of the trucks, so the minute they see you they start running. So the person who's to kill the animal sits in the front seat with the guide, and the partner sits in the back seat. Now, in that back seat, you have a gun too, just in case. And so you drive around, then you see one. The guide stops and says, 'OK, there you go, try to shoot it,' and you hop out and try to shoot the animal."

On a similar hunt at Mariposa in 2007, Young got a 175-pound cow nilgai, the committee records show.

The 2006 Mariposa Ranch trip was one of 25 visits to hunting venues detailed in a 60-page report and hundreds of additional pages of receipts, memos and emails released by the House Ethics Committee last week. The committee said 15 of those trips violated House ethics rules and directed Young to return $60,000 to his campaign committee and to individuals and companies that paid his way, including $11,567 for the four-day 2006 Mariposa trip.

Young paid back the money and apologized. The Ethics Committee concluded its investigation with a "letter of reproval" to the now 81-year-old, 20-term Republican from Alaska.

Young didn't respond to an email request for an interview that was sent to his official spokesman, Matt Shuckerow, and his attorney, John Dowd.

"A waste of time. Do not do it!" Dowd wrote back, apparently sending a "reply all" message instead of just communicating with Shuckerow.

The documents, made public for the first time, represented only a fraction of the 150,000 pages of investigative material the Justice Department turned over to the committee in 2010. The committee report included only Young's visits to lodges and private ranches from 2001 to 2007, the period in which he was transportation chairman, and one trip in 2008 set up the year before and another in 2013 discovered while the committee investigated the others. It made no reference to dozens of other trips Young made during his chairmanship years, including the notorious Coconut Road fundraiser in South Florida organized by a developer that netted his campaign about $40,000 and the developer a $10 million earmark for a highway interchange.

The committee report also didn't reference previous allegations that surfaced in the aftermath of the big FBI corruption investigation in Alaska in the mid-2000s. Among them: confessions by Veco Chairman Bill Allen and Allen's vice president Rick Smith that Veco, an Alaska oil-field service company, gave between $130,000 and $195,000 in illegal and unreported campaign contributions to Young. They also gave Young a $1,000 set of golf clubs that Young never reported, and organized at least one "golf outing" in which participants chipped in $100 each and gave the money to Young as a gratuity, also unreported.

The Justice Department told Young's attorney on April 4, 2010, that it was closing its investigation, and Young quickly relayed the information to the media -- though he declined to answer questions.

But Young wasn't yet off the hook. Two weeks later, the Justice Department officially alerted the House Ethics Committee to a portion of its investigation -- the hunting trips between 2001 and 2007. The committee said it asked Young's attorney, Dowd, for copies of the documents he provided to the Justice Department. Dowd agreed, the committee report said, but then reneged.

Because of delays caused by Young, the Justice Department and the committee itself, the investigation didn't get underway in earnest until Feb. 26, 2013, with a unanimous decision by the 10-member committee to create an investigative subcommittee. The subcommittee was directed to investigate allegations Young improperly accepted gifts, used campaign funds for his own benefit, and lied to federal officials.

4 TRIPS TO SAVANNAH DHU

In its April 29, 2014, report, the subcommittee said it had trouble gathering evidence on the earlier trips because they happened so long ago. And for trips prior to 2007, the investigation was hamstrung by an earlier rule that allowed congressmen themselves to evaluate the propriety of their own travel without seeking permission of the Ethics Committee.

It nevertheless determined that Young's claim that several of the trips were election-related -- and thus could be paid by his campaign -- was false. For instance, Young said the Feb. 23, 2007, trip to the Mariposa Ranch -- his third since 2005 -- was a campaign fundraiser despite the fact that the 2008 election was more than a year and half away. The trip was organized by Texas consultant Randy DeLay, the brother of former Rep. Tom DeLay, and attended by at least four officials of the pipeline construction company Willbros.

Ethics investigators interviewed attendees who said no campaign fundraising took place. Young collected no donations there, and he stayed on an extra day for an additional hunt, bagging the cow nilgai -- the only animal he killed over the four-day weekend, according to his game ticket.

The Mariposa owner billed Willbros $34,625 for the four-day stay. Young didn't pay until seven years later, when the Ethics Committee directed him to reimburse Willbros $4,697 for his share of the costs, and his campaign $4,779 for his airfare there.

Young traveled four times to the luxury preserve of shopping center magnate Robert Congel -- a place called Savannah Dhu on the edge of the Finger Lakes region near Clyde, N.Y. The preserve covers 5,000 acres. Its introduced game species include boar, sika and fallow deer, and elk. Company executives valued the stay at the retreat at $1,000 a night, even though the company charged congressional guests a nominal $49 "to comply with campaign finance laws," the Ethics Committee reported.

Lt. Tom Lutz of the New York police force that enforces game laws said a state permit isn't necessary to hunt the exotic species. Bag limits and seasons are up to the preserve owner, said Lutz, who serves in the central New York region where Savannah Dhu is located.

Using campaign contribution reports and official travel records, the Daily News reported in 2007 that Young had received $33,000 in campaign contributions from Congel, his family and associates. Young provided Congel with $10 million in earmarks, including $5 million to study traffic in Syracuse, N.Y., where Congel had hoped to build Destiny USA into North America's largest mall. Congel hired Young's former chief of staff, C.J. Zane, to lobby on its behalf, and Ethics Committee records show Zane accompanied Young on several of the trips.

The 2007 story said Young had taken at least three trips to Savannah Dhu. The detailed records released by the Ethics Committee report show there were actually five. The committee accepted Young's assertion that two of trips were legitimate campaign events: Young held a joint fundraising event with three other congressman in a visit in 2003, and in 2007 donors to his campaign could pay to hunt with Young.

Two of the other trips were associated with fundraisers for the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, in which Young offered himself as part of the weekend. The stays at Savannah Dhu were donated by Congel. Randy DeLay and two Texas contractors purchased three guest visits in 2005, and three Texas contractors won an auction for the stays in 2006.

Young and his wife, Lu, had their stays at the preserve paid for by Congel, including round-trip travel on Congel's jet from Washington to Syracuse in 2005. (Young's campaign paid for a commercial flight in 2006.)

Asked why he thought he could accept those free stays, including guided hunts, Young described it to the committee as a "charitable obligation." The committee found there was no such exception to its rules.

"If Rep. Young wants to support the SeaLife Center or any other charity by participating in an auction and offering his time as part of an item or items for bid, that may be permissible -- but he must pay for his own costs associated with that offer, as opposed to accepting the payment of those costs either from the charity or the affiliated donor," the committee said. It directed Young to pay $12,720 for the two trips.

Young claimed the fifth trip, in November 2004, was "personal hospitality," the House rules exception that allows a congressman to accept lodging from a friend. Because Savannah Dhu was corporate-owned and used for Congel's business, the committee said Young couldn't make that claim and directed him to repay $5,351.

'HOW IS THIS CAMPAIGN-RELATED?'

As questions began to surface about Young, some officials in his campaign and the host companies began to show concern. In a 2005 email, Steven Dougherty, an Anchorage attorney and Young's campaign manager at the time, expressed his worries to Young's chief of staff, Michael Anderson, about the campaign paying for Young's and his wife's airfare from Washington to Corpus Christi, Texas, the nearest big airport to Mariposa Ranch.

"I am totally prepared to get a check out to Randy (DeLay) for the amount of $3,459.60," Dougherty wrote. "Mike I have to be honest. How is this campaign-related? Are we going to have a fundraising event there? We already had our Texas events in December. This makes me nervous. The ADN (Anchorage Daily News) is attacking Tom DeLay today regarding these types of issues. As always, I am just trying got keep the boss safe."

There was no reply from Anderson in the record.

The committee report says that Young attended an "Alaska Energy Conference" every year from 2001 to 2004 and again in 2006 at Las Pitas Camp in Texas, a facility with deer and quail hunting owned by the Rowan Co., a drilling and aviation firm. But in 2007, the long-term CEO of Rowan, Robert Palmer, had been replaced by Daniel McNease.

When Palmer heard that Young was "denied access" to Las Pitas for the 2007 conference, he sent a sharply worded email demanding the decision be reversed. But McNease stuck to his decision, according to a "confidential" letter made public by the Ethics Committee.

"As you know, Rowan received a federal grand jury subpoena in June of this year that deals specifically with Rowan's entertainment of government officials at Las Pitas," McNease wrote. "It would be imprudent and contrary to Company policy to entertain any government official at Las Pitas. This trip may invite further (Department of Justice) scrutiny, not just of Rowan, but of Congressman Young as well and would also expose Rowan to the very real possibility of negative publicity."

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

 


By RICHARD MAUER
rmauer@adn.com
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