- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 2, 2006

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The offices of at least six Alaska legislators, including the state Senate president, were raided by federal agents searching for suspected ties between the lawmakers and a large oil-field services company, officials and aides said.

Department of Justice spokeswoman Jaclyn Lesch said the searches began Thursday and were continuing yesterday. 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 production-tax measure signed last month by Gov. Frank H. Murkowski, a Republican, and a draft natural-gas pipeline contract Mr. 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, Mr. Allen, Mr. Smith and company President Peter Leathard.

Items named in the search include hats and other garments.

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

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 last month 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,” she said.

Among the offices searched was that of Senate President Ben Stevens, a Republican whose father is Alaska’s senior U.S. senator, Ted Stevens, also a Republican. Ted Stevens’ spokesman Aaron Saunders said yesterday that he had no comment on the search.

Ben Stevens could not be reached at his Anchorage home.

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

Also searched were offices in both Juneau and Anchorage belonging to state Sen. John Cowdery, the Senate Rules Committee chairman and Republican; 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,” Mr. Cowdery said yesterday. “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.

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

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