- - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

By Rob Cary
NACDL Press/Thomson Reuters, $37.99, 335 pages

The single best general account of the prosecution of Sen. Ted Stevens, as seen within the context of the extraordinary history of contemporary Alaska in the age of oil, is “Crude Awakening: Money, Mavericks, and Mayhem in Alaska,” a book co-authored by Amanda Coyne and Tony Hopfinger. (Full disclosure: Amanda Coyne, one of Alaska’s leading journalists, is my daughter.)

Drawing fully on “Crude Awakening” and reporting from The Alaska Dispatch, The Anchorage Daily News and other sources, Rob Cary, a lawyer with the highly respected Washington firm of Williams and Connolly, and a key member of the Stevens defense team led by Brendan Sullivan, gives us an inside, on-the-scene, legal-eye view of the difficulties involved in confronting a corrupt and corruptible team of federal prosecutors, out to make names for themselves by landing a big Republican trophy. Mr. Cary lays out the case in strong, clear prose, animated by a keen sense of honest outrage, but always under control.

Chances are good that next month, Republicans will reclaim the U.S Senate seat lost in 2008, when Mark Begich, the amiable former mayor of Anchorage, edged Stevens by a few thousand votes, a victory made possible by federal prosecutors and agents from the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, led by a prosecutor named Brenda Morris, a careerist long on ambition but short on integrity, breaking the law to secure a guilty verdict from a jury in Washington, D.C.

The odd assortment of prosecutors and agents involved — one prosecutor who committed suicide, a female FBI agent who was apparently on intimate terms with the quintessentially corrupt figure who provided falsified evidence against his “friend” Sen. Stevens to save his own ample skin — could easily populate a TV series.

The case against Stevens developed as on outgrowth of an FBI investigation, Operation Polar Pen, involving the awarding of public contracts to build private prisons. At the center of the investigation was the Godfather-like Bill Allen, active in construction and the oil business, whose company, VECO, was the state’s largest private employer.

Mr. Allen was also the state’s largest corrupter, presiding over boozy sessions at a hotel in Juneau during legislative sessions of a group calling itself “The Corrupt Bastard’s Club.” When not corrupting legislators, he was engaged in a variety of distasteful activities, among them sexually abusing underage girls. One girl, Bambi Tyree, talked at some length to The Alaska Dispatch. The Anchorage Police Department had built a convincing morals case against Mr. Allen, but were ordered not to pursue it by the feds, who no doubt saw it as another weapon to keep him dishonest.

Beyond this, the feds had ample evidence to indict Mr. Allen for bribing legislators, but instead offered him a deal if he pled guilty and kept lying. In effect, the prosecutors hired Mr. Allen to provide false evidence against Steven, the man he called a friend.

The charge they finally came up with against Stevens (he proved to have a remarkably spotless record) was an instance of failing to reveal on his Senate financial-disclosure form that he’d accepted renovations on his Girdwood, Alaska, “chalet” (actually a very modest house) from Mr. Allen, although it was proved that Stevens actually paid more for the work than it was worth.

It was that, and nothing more, that led to the trial, the guilty verdict, the loss of a Senate seat and the end of a distinguished career of service to his country as a decorated pilot in World War II, and as a senator involved in every significant development in contemporary Alaskan history, from statehood to the construction of the Trans-Alaska pipeline and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

As for the man who betrayed him, writes Mr. Cary, “All told, Allen’s family received hundreds of millions of dollars from the sale of VECO Mark Allen [his son, who was caught on wiretap plotting to commit murder] used some of that money to buy a racehorse which won the 2009 Kentucky Derby I watched on TV as Mark Allen celebrated in the winner’s circle. As I thought of the deal his father had cut with the government, I was disgusted. Mark Allen had received immunity from prosecution and enough money to buy a Kentucky Derby winner.”

Nevertheless, thanks to the determined efforts of Brendan Sullivan, Rob Cary and U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, the demonstrable corruption of the prosecutors resulted in Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. ordering the charges withdrawn. (Ironically, President George W. Bush’s last attorney general, Michael B. Mukasey, despite the obvious wrongdoing of people under his charge, refused to get involved.) Sixteen months after Judge Sullivan threw out the guilty verdict, Stevens died in a plane crash.

Mr. Cary took on the task of writing this book with some reluctance. Over his 18-year career, he tells us, he has followed the rule laid down by his senior partner, Brendan Sullivan: “Do not speak publicly about a case outside the courtroom.”

With Mr. Sullivan’s concurrence, he decided to break that rule for three reasons: People have to know what happened to Stevens and how his defense attorneys could have used the evidence that was hidden from them; the criminal justice system is broken and needs reforming (Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, has introduced reform legislation.); and “equally important, but more personal — is that Senator Stevens asked me to write this book.”

He recommended a well-known author for the job, but was urged by the senator’s widow, Catherine Stevens, to take it on. “‘Rob,’ he quotes her as saying, ‘Ted wanted this book to be written, and he wanted you to write it.’” That, he tells us, was the clincher.

The result is a clean, honest, strongly written account of a governmental miscarriage of justice — a book that Stevens would have greatly appreciated.

John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley).

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