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Feds eye polar contract in Stevens probe

/ Source: The Associated Press

Federal authorities investigating Sen. Ted Stevens have turned their attention toward a federal contract that made millions of dollars for one of the senator's friends, a wealthy Alaska oil field contractor.

The Justice Department recently asked the National Science Foundation for records related to VECO Inc., the company at the center of a sweeping corruption investigation. VECO's founder, Bill Allen, has pleaded guilty to bribing Alaska lawmakers and oversaw a complicated home renovation project at Stevens' house in 2000.

VECO and its subsidiaries have so far gotten more than $50 million from the science agency for contracts to provide transportation, equipment and other support for Arctic researchers. The contracts could be worth much more in the coming years. They represent the company's most lucrative federal contracts, according the federal procurement data.

VECO signed the five-year contract in December 1999, months before Allen began supervising the work at home of Stevens, an Alaska Republican. The contract was renewed in 2004.

NSF officials said both contracts were competitively bid and said the agency received no pressure from Stevens to award the contract to VECO. The Associated Press, using a Freedom of Information Act request, reviewed agency documents related to the contract and its correspondence with Stevens' office and found no evidence Stevens tried to influence the award.

Simon N. Stephenson, the director of the National Science Foundation division overseeing the Arctic project, said nobody had protested the award or raised questions about it until the Justice Department requested documents recently.

"They have inquired and we're going to give them everything they ask for, probably a lot more," Stephenson said.

Federal investigators recently raided Stevens' home, photographing its contents and leaving with undisclosed items. By investigating VECO's federal contracts, authorities appear to be looking at whether Stevens provided Allen anything in return for his help on the house project.

Stevens has said he paid every bill he received for work done on the house.