- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 7, 2009

CORRUPTION

Former aide indicted for alleged corruption

A grand jury has indicted a former congressional staffer on corruption charges for taking a free trip to the 2003 World Series.

Prosecutors have charged Fraser Verrusio, who worked under Republican Rep. Don Young when the congressman chaired the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Officials say Mr. Verrusio and another Capitol Hill staffer accepted an illegal gratuity when lobbyists gave them an all-expense paid trip to New York, including the World Series game and a visit to a strip club.

The indictment charges that Mr. Verrusio helped the lobbyists get favorable language for an equipment rental company into a federal highway bill.

The indictment is the latest in the investigation surrounding former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

MINNESOTA

Court rejects Franken Senate bid

The Minnesota Supreme Court has rejected Democrat Al Franken’s petition for an election certificate that would put him in the U.S. Senate without waiting for a lawsuit to be resolved.

Mr. Franken is ahead of Republican Norm Coleman by 225 votes. Mr. Coleman’s lawsuit argues that some uncounted absentee ballots were wrongly rejected.

Mr. Franken sued to force Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie to sign an election certificate. Mr. Franken argued that federal law required it.

But the state Supreme Court disagreed. In their ruling Friday, the justices said states aren’t required to issue such certificates by the date that Congress convenes.

SENTENCE

Charges against ex-governor upheld

A federal appeals court upheld most of the bribery and corruption charges Friday against former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and all the charges against former HealthSouth Chief Executive Officer Richard Scrushy.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta struck down two of the seven charges that Siegelman, a Democrat, was convicted of and ordered a new sentencing hearing. That means Siegelman’s seven-year sentence could be reduced.

He won’t get off entirely: The court upheld key bribery, conspiracy and obstruction counts against him in what prosecutors described as a scheme that put Scrushy on a state hospital regulatory board when he was at the helm of HealthSouth. The court upheld all six counts against Scrushy and his sentence of almost seven years.

Siegelman, 63, and Scrushy, 56, were convicted in 2006 by a federal court jury in Montgomery, where Siegelman was a prominent Democrat with a political career spanning three decades.

Siegelman has claimed his prosecution was pushed by Republicans, including former White House adviser Karl Rove, a claim career federal prosecutors who handled the case have emphatically denied. Mr. Rove, a Texas strategist, was once heavily involved in Alabama politics.

ROYALTIES

Oil royalty fight may go to high court

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, fearing the loss of up to $10 billion in old drilling royalties from oil companies, said he is considering taking a dispute with Anadarko Petroleum Corp. to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In January, the Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that Anadarko did not have to pay $150 million in royalties for drilling on federal leases in the Gulf of Mexico issued between 1996 and 2000.

If the case stands in Anadarko’s favor, other energy companies could forgo paying royalties. The Government Accountability Office estimates that the government could lose up to $10 billion in royalty revenue over the life of the leases.

The dispute centers on financial incentives Congress gave energy companies in the mid-1990s when oil prices fell to $10 a barrel. To make drilling in the deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico more profitable, royalties were waived on initial oil and natural gas production.

The Interior Department sought to end that royalty relief if oil and gas prices increased significantly, which they did.

Kerr-McGee Corp., which was bought by Anadarko in 2006, sued the department, arguing that it did not have the authority to take away the royalty relief provided by Congress. The company won in the initial trial and on appeal.

HEALTH CARE

White House to hold health summits

Want to tell senior Obama officials what you think about health care? The White House is giving some Americans a chance to do just that.

It announced a series of regional forums featuring the nation’s governors and people from all sectors of the debate over how to overhaul the nation’s health care system.

President Obama won’t attend, but his top aides will, and participants will get to see a video recorded by the president.

The forums are set to be held in California, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina and Vermont in March and early April.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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