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FBI searches offices of Alaska lawmakers

Federal investigators on Thursday raided the offices of  lawmakers in Alaska in a search for any ties between the legislators and a large oil field services company, officials said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The offices of at least six Alaska legislators, including the son of Sen. Ted Stevens, were raided by federal agents searching for possible ties between the lawmakers and a large oil field services company, officials and aides said.

Department of Justice spokeswoman Jaclyn Lesch said Friday the searches began Thursday and were continuing Friday. FBI spokesman Eric Gonzalez said a total of 20 search warrants were being executed across Alaska, but would not say where.

A copy of one of the search warrants, obtained by The Associated Press, links the investigation to a new production tax law signed last month by Gov. Frank Murkowski and a draft natural gas pipeline contract Murkowski and the state’s three largest oil companies negotiated.

The warrant called for seizure of documents concerning any payment made to lawmakers by Bill Allen and Richard Smith, executives of oil field services giant VECO Corp. Agents also looked for documents about contracts, agreements or employment of legislators provided by VECO, Allen, Smith and company president Peter Leathard.

Sought-after items named in the search include hats or other garments bearing the phrases “CBC,” “Corrupt Bastards Club” or “Corrupt Bastards Caucus.”

That’s the nickname given to 11 lawmakers after a guest opinion piece published in March listed the contributions those legislators received from VECO Corp. executives, said House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez. The piece was published in the Anchorage Daily News, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and the Juneau Empire on different dates in March.

“I’ve heard it a few times,” Harris said Friday. “These legislators nicknamed themselves or somebody else did.”

Lesch said no further comment is likely to come from the Justice Department unless charges are filed.

Company says execs on the up and up
VECO’s executives are top contributors to Alaska politicians. The company staunchly supported the governor’s production tax plan, a version of which the Legislature passed in August after twice rejecting it earlier this year. Lawmakers have also twice failed to pass legislation related to the governor’s pipeline fiscal contract with BP PLC, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp.

Amy Menard, an Anchorage-based attorney for VECO, said the company received a warrant on Thursday. She said the company would cooperate with agents in providing the broad range of information they want.

“We have no information that would suggest that there have been any improper activities either by VECO Corp., VECO Alaska, or any of the principals involved in those companies,” Menard said.

Among the offices searched was that of Republican Senate President Ben Stevens, whose father is Alaska’s senior senator, who has reported collecting more than $240,000 in consulting fees from VECO since 2000. Ted Stevens’ spokesman Aaron Saunders said Friday he had no comment on the search.

Ben Stevens could not be reached at his Anchorage home on Friday.

Agents left Ben Stevens’ Capitol office Thursday evening with 12 boxes of documents labeled “Evidence” and loaded them into a vehicle.

‘It’s pretty bizarre’
Also searched were offices in both Juneau and Anchorage belonging to state Sen. John Cowdery, the Senate Rules chairman; Republican state Rep. Vic Kohring; Republican state Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch; Democratic state Sen. Donald Olson, and Republican state Rep. Pete Kott.

“It’s pretty bizarre,” Cowdery said Friday. “That’s all I know, it’s pretty bizarre. I certainly haven’t done anything wrong.”

He said he didn’t know why he was included in the raid or why agents seized items “unrelated to anything,” including the stubs of his legislative salary checks.

Kohring said he cooperated and was told he was not a target of the investigation. Calls to Weyhrauch and Kott were not immediately returned Friday.

Olson issued a statement saying, “I am certain that I will not be a target of this investigation and that I have broken no laws.” Reached by telephone, he said his attorneys advised him not to comment further.

Four different teams of at least six federal agents each spent hours searching offices on each floor of the Capitol.

Besides VECO and its executives, agents were authorized to seize any documents related to The Petroleum Club, Republican pollster David Dittman or his company, Dittman Research and Communication Corp., pollster Marc Hellenthal or his company, Hellenthal and Associates, Roger Chan, VECO’s chief financial officer, and a flying service that Olson owns, according to the warrant.

Dittman’s wife, Terry Dittman, said Friday the FBI had been to their office and said the company was not the subject of the investigation but they may have evidence related to it.

A person who answered the phone at Chan’s home in Anchorage said he was out of town and could not be reached for comment. Messages were also left for Leathard, Smith and Allen.

Hellenthal said Friday that he had not been contacted by federal agents. He said his firm has conducted polls for VECO and other businesses on governors’ and legislative races.

A receipt, obtained by the AP, of items the FBI seized from Olson’s office lists five things: Olson’s 2006 year planner, Murkowski’s gas pipeline proposal released in May, a manila folder labeled “APOC” for the Alaska Public Offices Commission, Olson’s interim travel file and a binder related to the Alaska Stranded Gas Fiscal contract.