- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the longest serving Republican in the Senate, was indicted Tuesday on seven felony counts of concealing more than $250,000 in gifts from an oil services company that lobbied him, raising anew “culture of corruption” charges Democrats rode to sweeping victories in 2006.

The federal grand jury indictment said Mr. Stevens, 84, lied about accepting improvements to his vacation home in Alaska, including a new first floor, garage, wraparound deck, plumbing and electrical wiring, as well as car exchanges, a gas grill, furniture and tools.

In a statement released from Mr. Stevens’ office, the senator said he was “innocent of these charges and intend to prove that.”

Mr. Stevens, who has been dogged by a federal corruption investigation for several years, said he will step down temporarily from his role as the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, in accordance with Senate Republican Conference rules, “until I am absolved of these charges.”

“The impact of these charges on my family disturbs me greatly,” he added.

Democrats used Republicans’ legal troubles as part of the 2006 congressional campaigns, and the charges helped oust Republicans from control of both the House and Senate.

Other members of Congress currently under indictment include Rep. Rick Renzi, Arizona Republican, who is facing federal wire fraud and money laundering charges and is retiring at the end of this term, and Rep. William J. Jefferson, Louisiana Democrat, who was indicted on racketeering and bribery charges. Nearly a dozen other members also have reportedly come under investigation for corruption.

Last year, Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after being caught in a sex sting in a Minneapolis airport men’s room.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, declined to comment on the accusations against Mr. Stevens.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, also said little about Mr. Stevens’ legal trouble, and would not indicate whether the Republican conference should ask the lawmaker from Alaska to step down from the chamber.

“It’s a sad day for him, for us, but I believe in the American system of justice that he´s presumed innocent,” he said. “As far as what’s going to happen [to Mr. Stevens] in the Republican caucus, that’s up to them.”

The publicity surrounding Mr. Stevens’ legal troubles has caused a once safe seat to enter into play. The senator faces what could be a tough primary election next month against David Cuddy, a wealthy real estate developer who spent more than a $1 million of his own money in a losing battle against Mr. Stevens in the 1996 Republican primary. If Mr. Stevens survives the primary, he faces a formidable challenge by Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat who is leading the race in some polls.

The charges against Mr. Stevens also could further improve Democrats’ hopes of expanding their Senate majority - which is now 49-49 with two independents who caucus with the Democrats - to a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority.

The Justice Department said Mr. Stevens’ upcoming elections had no bearing on the release of the indictments.

“We bring cases based upon our evaluation of the facts and the law, and we bring cases when they are ready to be charged, and that’s what happened here,” said Matthew Friedrich, acting assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division.

Mr. Stevens’ indictments were announced days after Republicans made inroads with their push to highlight Democrats’ reluctance to move on legislation that would increase domestic oil drilling - an issue that Americans increasingly favor, polls show.

The indictment accused the six-term senator of making false statements on his Senate financial disclosure forms from 2001 to 2006, Justice said. From May 1999 to August 2007, prosecutors said, Mr. Stevens concealed “his continuing receipt of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of things of value from a private corporation.”

Prosecutors said Mr. Stevens “took multiple steps to continue” receiving items from VECO and its founder, Bill Allen. The indictment says Allen and other VECO employees were soliciting Mr. Stevens for “multiple official actions … knowing that Stevens could and did use his official position and his office on behalf of VECO during that same time period.”

VECO’s requests included funding and other aid for the company’s projects and partnerships in Pakistan and Russia. It also included federal grants from several agencies, as well as help in building a national gas pipeline in Alaska’s North Slope Region, according to the indictment filed in Washington.

VECO was once the dominant force in Alaska’s oil services industry. Its founder, Allen, and vice president, Rick Smith, have pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers to push legislation to help the company. That initial investigation into VECO spawned the Stevens probe.

Allen agreed to cooperate with the FBI as part of a plea deal for a lesser penalty. That cooperation included letting the FBI tape his phone calls with Mr. Stevens, though those calls do not appear as part of the indictment.

Mr. Friedrich said the investigation, which began about four years ago, is not over and that more indictments and defendants could be named later.

Mr. Stevens, who has served in the Senate since 1968, is no stranger to accusations of abuse of power. He and fellow Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young tried to steer more than $200 million for the construction of an enormous bridge linking mainland Alaska to a sparsely populated island. The infamous “bridge to nowhere” earmark eventually was axed but not before it generated significant criticism and was held up as an example of egregious pork-barrel spending.

The senator’s indictments highlight a string of corruption scandals that have rocked Capitol Hill in recent years, particularly those involving Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Abramoff pleaded guilty Jan. 5, 2006, to charges of conspiracy and fraud in a $23 million scheme to purchase gambling boats in Miami, a day after admitting to fraud and tax evasion charges in a separate scandal involving his lobbying activities with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. He has agreed to cooperate fully in the government’s ongoing Capitol Hill influence-peddling investigation.

Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican, was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for trading political favors for gifts and campaign donations from Abramoff.

Democrats used the Abramoff scandal as a major campaign issue during the congressional elections in 2006, when Democrats won back control of Congress for the first time in 12 years.

Several other Republican members of Congress have been charged with high-profile crimes in recent years, including:

cFormer Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, who served as House majority leader from 2003 to 2005, was charged in 2005 with felony money laundering and conspiracy in connection with Republican fundraising efforts in 2002. One charge has been dropped and two others are being argued before a state appeals court. He stepped down from Congress in 2006.

cFormer Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham of California in 2006 was sentenced to more than eight years in prison after he collected $2.4 million in homes, yachts, antique furnishings and other bribes in a corruption scheme.

cBen Conery and Jerry Seper contributed to this article, which was based in part on wire service reports.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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