Federal Agents Raid Alaska Home of Longtime Senator
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MARGARET WARNER: It was a dramatic scene yesterday at the Alaska home of the state’s senior senator, Ted Stevens. More than a dozen FBI and IRS agents swarmed over the house for hours, photographing and videotaping it extensively. The agents also left with a garbage bag full of unidentified materials.
Agents didn’t say what they were looking for, but a major remodeling of the house in 2000 was overseen by a Stevens friend, oilfield services company executive Bill Allen. In May, Allen pled guilty to bribing Alaska state lawmakers, resigned as chairman of Veco Corporation, and began cooperating with prosecutors.
The 83-year-old Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the history of the Senate, insists he paid every renovation bill he got with his own money. Former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he remains a powerful figure in Washington and in Alaska.
Joining us to explain what’s behind yesterday’s raid is Richard Mauer of the Anchorage Daily News.
And, Richard Mauer, thank you for joining us. So what triggered this raid of a sitting senator’s home?
RICHARD MAUER, Anchorage Daily News: Well, this has to do with this ongoing investigation that’s been taking place in Alaska for several years and has led to the indictment of several legislators, as you said.
In the year 2000, Senator Stevens’ house was extensively remodeled, doubled in size. They basically picked the house up and built another floor underneath. And the question is, did Senator Stevens pay for the entire project? Was some of it a gift from Veco or others? And so the raid was about documenting exactly what happened inside.
Payment for home renovations
MARGARET WARNER: OK, and the suspicion is that maybe he didn't pay for it because Veco, in some way, or Bill Allen oversaw this renovation? How did that happen, and how extensively did they oversee it?
RICHARD MAUER: Well, one of the contractors who did most of the work on that ground floor sent his bill -- was hired by Veco and then sent his bills to Bill Allen. Bill Allen or someone at Veco approved the bills. And then he received a check from Catherine Stevens, the senator's wife, for the work.
There's some question about whether -- he was definitely not the only person who worked on the house. There is some suggestion in other court documents that have been filed that Veco employees also worked on the house and that not all of the work was paid for. The issue is whether all of the work was paid for.
I think Senator Stevens' well-crafted comment that he paid for all the renovations that he was billed for suggests that maybe there were renovations that he wasn't.
MARGARET WARNER: Or at least it doesn't say one way or the other. One thing, Bill, we do know, because Bill Allen has already pled guilty, is that he has confessed to trying to bribe Alaska state legislators. Very briefly, what was his M.O. there? What did he get in return?
RICHARD MAUER: Well, the main thing that -- he really didn't get so much in return. The oil companies got something in return. What he confessed to bribing legislators on was a change in state oil taxes that had a huge impact on the major producers in Alaska, BP, ConocoPhillips and Exxon, that he -- obviously, Bill Allen supported this bill. And what he was accused of and what he pled guilty to was bribing legislators to vote the way he wanted them to vote.
Veco's federal contracts
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Veco has received over the years millions, perhaps tens of millions, in federal contracts. Is there any suggestion, has anything been alleged, or has anyone found out whether Ted Stevens, as chairman of the Appropriations Committee or in some of his other powerful committee posts, had anything to do with that?
RICHARD MAUER: No. In fact, there's one set of contracts that Veco has gotten, actually, from the National Science Foundation to support research in the Arctic, that these were the basic contracts that Veco has gotten that are known, but it's unclear what, if any, role Senator Stevens had in the earmarking of money or getting the money to him. We don't know that.
MARGARET WARNER: So how close is the relationship, personal or professional, between Senator Stevens and Bill Allen?
RICHARD MAUER: They own a racehorse together. They clearly have social interests together. Another thing of interest is that Veco has paid the senator's son, Ben Stevens, who was president of the Alaska State Senate, something on the order of $240,000 over the years that Ben Stevens was in office, for consulting. And Ben Stevens has never said what he did for the work. In the guilty plea, Bill Allen basically admits to paying Ben Stevens for nothing more than being a state senator.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, what do the prosecutors you talked to -- I assume you talked to some -- told you about how far along this investigation is and whether -- in fact, has Senator Stevens or his lawyer or the federal prosecutors confirmed that he is, in fact, himself a target?
RICHARD MAUER: The prosecutors are very tight-lipped, as is the FBI, but they basically say they're still in the early stages of the investigation or middle stages of the investigation. No one is saying whether Senator Stevens officially is a target or not. Senator Stevens has said he is not a target, but that doesn't necessarily mean very much at this stage.
A broader investigation
MARGARET WARNER: And then how wide does this investigation go? The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Don Young, the only congressman from Alaska, is also being investigated for his dealings with Veco, among other things.
RICHARD MAUER: Yes, the investigation does appear to be very broad. It does appear to affect Congressman Young, Senator Stevens. There are other legislators whose offices were raided in August of last year who have not been indicted, including Ben Stevens, so it's unclear how much further it will go. I think we haven't seen the last of it.
MARGARET WARNER: And, briefly, is this investigation linked to or part of the broader Justice Department probe that's been going on for some time into influence-peddling and corruption in Congress, the investigation that snared Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham and others?
RICHARD MAUER: Well, clearly, philosophically it's related, since some of that -- it's the same general idea. But as far as Abramoff himself, there is a connection between Don Young and Abramoff, several connections, but none apparently with Senator Stevens. This particular investigation appears to have started in Alaska and spread out to include Washington.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, Richard Mauer of the Anchorage Daily News, thank you so much.
RICHARD MAUER: You're welcome.