Roots of the Stevens Investigation
One of the most powerful members of the Senate for nearly three decades, Ted Stevens built a loyal following in Alaska by protecting and promoting the key industries of oil and fishing, and by bringing home legendary buckets of federal spending for his constituents' pet projects. (An episode of the TV series "West Wing" once showed two aides joking about outrageous fictional earmarks. Except one of the earmarks was real, brought in by Stevens: $2 million to monitor Alaskan skies for volcanic ash.)
Stevens has survived many attacks on his pork-barrel politics. He is a hardened politico who flew fighter jets during World War II and survived a 1978 small plane crash in Anchorage that killed five people including his first wife, Ann. ('It's my Scot's blood,' he said from his hospital bed at the time.) But today's federal indictment presents the greatest threat yet to his political career.
The federal probe apparently was spurred by an investigation published in June 2003 by the Los Angeles Times. The Times said the senator's activities had "furthered his son Ben's career as a consultant," citing financial disclosure reports showing that a dozen companies and organizations who benefited from Ted Stevens' efforts paid Ben Stevens, "at least $754,976 in consulting fees for part-time work over the last three years."
Included in the fees was at least $212,000 from VECO, the oil services company at the heart of today's federal indictment. At the time, VECO was trying to collect its share of payments for a $70 million pipeline it helped build in Pakistan; Ted Stevens had sway over a trade bill important to Pakistan, the Times reported.
In December of 2003, the Times and the Anchorage Daily News reported in more detail on the Stevens family finances. Stevens became rich by investing with an Anchorage real estate developer, John Rubini. One $50,000 investment grew to an asset worth at least $750,000, the newspapers said. At the time, both newspapers said, Stevens was helping Rubini obtain a Pentagon contract for $450 million to build housing on Elmendorf Air Force Base. The Times also focused on the connections between the senator's actions and the clients of his brother-in-law, Bill Bittner, an Anchorage lawyer and Washington lobbyist.
"If they think I am going to resign because of a story in a newspaper, they're crazy," Stevens said at a news conference at the time. But in 2005 he sold the real estate in question and put the proceeds in a blind trust.
The federal investigation became public in the summer of 2006, when agents raided the Anchorage office of Ben Stevens, then president of the state Senate, and five other lawmakers, as well as the offices of VECO.
Then in May 2007, the head of VECO, Bill Allen, and Rick Smith, vice president for community and government affairs, each pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy, admitting they were responsible for more than $400,000 in illegal payments to public officials or their families. The government said more than half the money went to Ben Stevens in the form of phony "consulting" fees. At the time, the Anchorage Daily News reported that the investigators were zeroing in on the contracting work done at Ted Stevens' home. The house was searched by federal agents in July 2007.
As part of their plea agreements last year, Allen and Smith agreed to cooperate in the ongoing federal investigation, which likely led to today's charges against Ted Stevens.
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