- The Washington Times - Friday, August 17, 2007

The FBI is investigating the National Science Foundation’s award of up to $170 million in contracts to the oil-field-services company that oversaw renovations on U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens‘ home.

The firm, Veco Corp., won a lucrative five-year NSF contract in 1999 to provide logistics and support for polar research, although it had no previous experience in that field. During the same time period, Veco’s top executive managed renovations that doubled the size of the longtime Republican senator’s Girdwood, Alaska, home — the scene of a July 30 FBI raid.

NSF spokesman Dana Cruikshank told McClatchy Newspapers that the FBI has made inquiries into the 1999 award, worth up to $70 million, and a 2004 follow-up contract for as many as seven years that the company values at up to $100 million. Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra and spokeswoman Deborah Weierman of the FBI’s Washington field office, which is leading the investigation, declined comment on the NSF contracts.

Veco’s founder and CEO, Bill Allen, pleaded guilty this past spring to making $400,000 in illegal payments to Alaska lawmakers, including Mr. Stevens‘ son, Ben, who until last year was president of the Alaska Senate. Mr. Allen is cooperating in a sweeping FBI corruption investigation that also has led to the conviction of a former Alaska state representative and guilty pleas from a second Veco executive and a prison-industry lobbyist.

Three other state lawmakers are awaiting trial on bribery charges. Ben Stevens has not been charged.

The disclosure provides further evidence of the degree to which the investigation of public corruption in the Alaska Legislature has widened to include at least two of the state’s three members of Congress. Alaska’s sole congressman, U.S. Rep. Don Young, a Republican, is also under investigation for his ties to Veco.

Until now, there has been little hint as to how Veco might have benefited from the close relationship that its CEO had with the elder Mr. Stevens, who served for several years as the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Mr. Stevens also had oversight of the National Science Foundation in his senior role on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

No evidence has surfaced that Mr. Stevens directly steered the contract to Veco, but his aggressive support for increased funding for Arctic research coincided with the company’s sudden emergence as a major player in providing logistics for polar scientists. Under the contract, Veco helps transport researchers to remote Arctic regions for more than 150 scientific projects, feeds them, houses them and provides equipment and communications during their stays.

Mr. Stevens would not comment on any aspect of the investigation and has refused to talk about the FBI raid on his house. A spokesman said that the 83-year-old senator has long had an interest in seeing more money spent on Arctic research.

c Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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