A public company and the influential B.S. 1623

  • Ben Stevens, that is.
    Web posted December 2, 2005
    State levies USD150 fine against Ben Stevens for not revealing chairmanship

    The Alaska Public Offices Commission on Thursday fined state Senate President Ben Stevens USD150 for failing to disclose his chairmanship of the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board.
    The commission also directed its staff to look into requiring public officials to list any stock options they hold, a move prompted by an ownership option Stevens held in a fish processing company in the Aleutian Islands.
    Stevens, R-Anchorage, did not disclose his option to own 25 percent of Adak Fisheries, which was only made public this year after the owners of the company sued each other.
    Meanwhile, the commission also rejected an appeal by Republican Moderate Party Chairman Ray Metcalfe to investigate his allegation that Stevens did not fully disclose what he did for various companies that paid him consulting fees.
    Metcalfe alleges the companies, mainly from the fishing and oil industries, paid Stevens for his political influence as leader of the state Senate.
    Stevens denies the allegations of influence peddling.
    The commission, which tracks the financial activities of election campaigns, public officials, lobbyists and lobbyist employers, spent the bulk of the morning session of its Thursday meeting in Anchorage on the three issues dealing with the Senate president.
    Stevens did not disclose that he is chairman of the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board in his 2005 financial disclosure statement to APOC, which is a violation of state law.
    He told the commission he filed that information with the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics, and did not believe he had to file with APOC, too.
    The maximum fine the commission could have levied against Stevens was USD2,120, or USD10 per day for all 212 days Stevens’ report was out of compliance.
    APOC’s staff recommended reducing it to USD150 because Stevens did not understand he had to report the chairmanship and because he later amended his disclosure statement to include the position.
    The commission unanimously approved the staff’s recommendation for the USD150 fine.
    The day before, the commission fined Stevens’ House counterpart, Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, USD693 for misspending nearly USD7,000 in campaign money.
    APOC also will consult with the Department of Law on whether it can change its disclosure requirements to require lawmakers and other public officials to reveal all stock options they own, regardless of their value.
    That decision, too, was prompted by Stevens. He held an option to buy 25 percent of Adak Fisheries, which was the beneficiary of a congressionally approved pollock allocation pushed in 2003 by Stevens’ father, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.
    Officials with the Aleut Corp., which was awarded the rights to the pollock, say Ben Stevens kept his option secret when he voted as a board member of the corporation’s subsidiary to transfer the allocation rights to Adak Fisheries. Aleut officials say that is a conflict of interest, which Stevens has denied.
    Whether Stevens’ option is valid is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit.
    ‘They have a right to know (that legislators) are not going to be voting to benefit the business,’ Commissioner John Dapcevich said.
    APOC Assistant Director Christina Ellingson said if the Department of Law concludes new disclosure requirement can’t be made under APOC’s current regulations, it will draft new regulations or ask the Legislature to change the law.
    Also, the commission unanimously rejected Metcalfe’s appeal of an APOC staff decision not to investigate his allegations against Stevens’ disclosure of his consulting work.
    Metcalfe requested Stevens’ work should be held to the standard of an IRS compliance audit, where Stevens would have to provide evidence of billing hours and the work product received. If that evidence doesn’t justify the money Stevens received, Metcalfe asked APOC to forward his complaint to the attorney general’s office to determine whether Stevens violated criminal law regarding bribery for a political purpose.
    Ellingson said that is out of APOC’s jurisdiction, and that Stevens met the requirements for financial disclosure that the commission reviews.
    Metcalfe dismissed the jurisdictional explanation and said the commission would be complicit in a cover up of Stevens’ activities if it did not try to shed more light on what he did to earn his money.
    Metcalfe has filed a second complaint with APOC against Stevens, which was not addressed Thursday.

  • Or should that be ‘HAS-ben’ Stevens?
    Sen. Ben Stevens quits race to ‘spend more time with the family’ According to the Anchorage Daily News website, Sen. Ben Stevens has announced that he is withdrawing from his reelection campaign and will not seek office. Making no mention of his political problems, Stevens complained of the sacrifices associated with serving in the legislature said he wished to spend more time with his family.
    Reporter Don Hunter writes : Stevens has worked as a commercial fisherman and as a consultant, a job for which he received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Alaska companies with interests here and in Washington, D.C. The overlap between his professional life and the elected offices he and his father held helped make him a lightning rod for ethics questions and accusations. He was the target of an unsuccessful recall effort and several complaints filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission by former state lawmaker and political gadfly Ray Metcalfe.
    Click here to link to Stevens’ senate president office.
    —Posted by Douglas Yates at Thu Jul 06 18:42:21 EDT 2006

  • Subpoena may signal a wider corruption
    GRAND JURY: Head of seine group says records touch Ben Stevens, marketing board.
    Anchorage Daily News
    Published: December 10, 2006
    Last Modified: December 10, 2006 at 03:02 AM
    The director of a Juneau-based salmon fishing group said last week he has been ordered by a federal grand jury investigating Alaska corruption to turn over lobbying and consulting records involving state Senate President Ben Stevens and former congressional aide Trevor McCabe, an Anchorage lawyer.
    The grand jury subpoena, issued last month, also seeks records on the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, a nonprofit federal-grant distribution corporation set up by Ben Stevens’ father, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.
    The executive director of the Juneau salmon group responding to the subpoena, Robert Thorstenson Jr., serves on the marketing board. Thorstenson said he and a partner, Juneau and Seattle lawyer Rob Zuanich, rent space to the board for its Juneau office.
    In a telephone interview Thursday from Seattle, Thorstenson said the subpoena to Southeast Alaska Seiners Association arrived last month after he was contacted by agents from the FBI and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The subpoena said the grand jury was investigating felony crimes, Thorstenson said.
    The subpoena appears to document a widening of the federal corruption investigation in Alaska, which burst into public view in August with dramatic raids of the offices of six legislators, including Ben Stevens. Agents returned to search Stevens’ offices Sept. 18.
    On Wednesday, a federal grand jury indicted Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Anchorage, on seven counts charging extortion, bribery, conspiracy and money laundering. The charges describe a scheme in which money was allegedly funneled to Anderson through a shell company in 2004 in exchange for actions he took as a legislator to benefit a private prison company. He pleaded not guilty Friday.
    In the August legislative office searches, subpoenas and search warrants indicated the government’s focus was on the relationships between legislators, oil and gas legislation, and the politically active oil field service and construction company Veco and its chairman, Bill Allen.
    The material seized from Stevens in September, including documents related to the seiners association and the marketing board, suggested a widening of the probe into his lucrative fishing consulting business, though the government has not cited any specific crimes it is investigating.
    Both the marketing board’s creation and the seiner organization lobbying directly involve earmarks inserted into federal legislation by Ted Stevens. There is no indication that agents are investigating Ted Stevens, the senior Republican in the U.S. Senate. Stevens himself has declined to comment on the investigation.
    Ben Stevens was the board’s initial chairman when it was created in 2003 until he resigned April 19, and McCabe, Ted Stevens’ former legislative director, has served on its board of directors also since its creation. The board has distributed millions of dollars of federal funds to fishery companies, including several that paid consulting fees to Ben Stevens. Stevens was recently fined USD300 by the Alaska Public Offices Commission for failing to disclose his membership on the commission for two years.
    Ben Stevens has reported receiving USD775,435 from nine fishing companies and associations since he was appointed to a vacant state Senate seat in 2001. Except to describe his services as those of a business consultant, he has never publicly said what he has done for the money.
    That total doesn’t include money from the Southeast Seiners. The Alaska Public Offices Commission is investigating a complaint brought by former state legislator Ray Metcalfe accusing Ben Stevens of breaking disclosure law by failing to report income from the group. The matter is on the commission’s Jan. 11 agenda.
    Zuanich, Thorstenson’s real estate partner and Southeast Seiners’ attorney, said in an e-mail to the Sitka Borough Assembly last month that the fishing group paid USD56,500 over 19 months for consulting and lobbying on a buyback of commercial fishing permits for Southeast Alaska. The money was paid to Advance North LLC, an Anchorage company owned 50-50 by Ben Stevens and McCabe.
    Zuanich wrote that in June 2004, the association began paying Advance North ‘to provide consulting and lobbying services relating to this proposed legislation’ for the buyback. He told the Sitka officials that he has provided documents and sworn testimony on the matter under subpoena from the Public Offices Commission.
    The Sitka assembly was evaluating an unrelated application by Zuanich and other partners for a local USD350,000 economic development grant.
    The Southeast salmon fleet has been devastated by low prices. In 2002, Gov. Tony Knowles declared an economic emergency and directed state government to assist Southeast fishing families. The proposed buyback was part of the effort by the fishermen themselves to increase prices by reducing the number of fishing boats on the water.
    In September 2004, three months after the seiners began paying Stevens and McCabe, a federal loan program to reduce the seine fleet passed as a USD20 million earmark to a Senate appropriations bill while Ted Stevens was chairman of the Appropriations Committee. When the final version of the appropriations bill passed Congress in December of that year, the buyback measure had expanded to a USD50 million program.
    Thorstenson said the terms of the loan program, as passed by Congress, were too unfavorable for fishermen to afford. The organization is lobbying now for a smaller total loan package coupled with a grant of about USD7 million.
    According to state corporation records, McCabe took over Ben Stevens’ half of Advance North Oct. 1, 2005. Neither he nor Stevens has disclosed the terms of the takeover. Thorstenson said the organization contracts solely with McCabe now.
    Stevens has told the public offices commission he wasn’t required to disclose the amount of money he received from the fishermen because he didn’t have a controlling interest in Advance North. In a ruling on a related complaint from Metcalfe in September, the commission appeared to agree with Stevens, though it had not sought records from Advance North that might indicate how control was shared by the two owners, according to commission director Brooke Miles.
    Thorstenson said duties under the Advance North contract were supposed to be split, with Stevens consulting on how to arrange, manage and promote the buyback among fishermen, and McCabe, a registered congressional lobbyist, talking to Ted Stevens’ staff. Thorstenson said he had no idea how the pair divided the fees.
    McCabe didn’t respond to e-mails or phone calls seeking comment for this story. Ben Stevens’ lawyer, John Wolf of Seattle, said, ‘In light of the investigation currently being conducted by the U.S. attorney’s office for Alaska, we are not going to comment on any subject material that might be within the scope of the investigation.’
    Metcalfe’s complaints cited affidavits by former Southeast salmon fisherman Victor Smith, an occasional contributor to fishing journals and blogs. In one sworn statement, Smith said the fishing association clearly planned to hire Ben Stevens, not McCabe, to get the buyback. He cited conversations he had, including some that were recorded, with members and directors of the seiners group. He also said he heard Zuanich talk publicly during a 2003 meeting in Lynnwood, Wash., of the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association, a group with many of the same members as the seiners’, about using ‘a little convoluted accounting’ to get funds to Ben Stevens. Smith is a member of the owners association and Zuanich is its director.
    Smith said he met with federal agents in a Seattle hotel Nov. 13.
    Thorstenson got the call from the FBI and the fisheries agent two days later. When he received the subpoena, he said, ‘I’m like, ‘Wow man, I guess this is like, real.’ ’
    Thorstenson said he was initially directed to provide the material by Dec. 1, but he won a reprieve until Jan. 9 because of the amount of material. He said he has packed 16 boxes of documents in response to the subpoena.
    The government sought e-mails, board minutes, contracts, and tax and other financial records related to the buyback, Stevens, McCabe, Advance North, the fisheries marketing board and Ben Stevens’ personal consulting firm, Stevens and Associates, Thorstenson said.
    Thorstenson said that he doesn’t believe any wrongdoing occurred and that he would defend the actions of Stevens and McCabe.
    Zuanich wouldn’t answer a reporter’s questions, saying the APOC was the proper forum for the issue. Thorstenson said Zuanich told him he never made the statement attributed to him by Victor Smith.
    Thorstenson said he never portrayed Ben Stevens as the group’s lobbyist to Congress, but he can understand why some of his board members might have thought that was the arrangement. Ben Stevens is much better known than McCabe, even though McCabe, as Ted Stevens’ fisheries aide, was largely responsible for one of the most significant federal fisheries bills in the last decade, the American Fisheries Act of 1998, Thorstenson said.
    Thorstenson, who is also president of United Fishermen of Alaska, a coalition of several dozen fishing groups, said many fishermen were aware of Ben Stevens’ consulting work on the Bering Sea Crab Effort Reduction Fund, a heavily subsidized USD100 million boat buyout pushed through Congress by Ted Stevens in 2000. The program, using grants and loans, was designed to eliminate about 25 percent of the vessels in the fleet, leaving more crab for the remaining ones. The crabbers paid Ben Stevens a consulting fee of USD42,500 in 2000. A spokesman for the crabbers said at the time that Ben Stevens was hired to plan the strategy for the buyout, not to lobby his father.
    'With Advance North, I figured more (board members) believed in Ben. ‘Ben Stevens, he’ll save the day,’ ’ Thorstenson said.

    Daily News reporter Richard Mauer can be reached at rmauer_at_adn.com or 257-4345.

    Federal authorities have said little about the ongoing investigation into corruption involving Alaska lawmakers. But some aspects are clearly known. Other aspects, including how or whether different events or parts of the investigation are connected, aren’t clear.
    • Summer 2004: FBI records conversations between a lobbyist working for a private prison company and another man working for the same company as they talk about making payments to Rep. Tom Anderson in exchange for actions benefiting the company. The lobbyist and Anderson didn’t know it, but the other man was working as a confidential source for the FBI, according to the indictment issued last week against Anderson.
    • Aug. 31, 2006: Teams of federal agents execute some 20 search warrants in Anchorage, Juneau, Wasilla, Eagle River and Girdwood, including at legislative offices and the oil services company Veco. Offices of six Alaska legislators – 10 percent of the Legislature – are raided. One of the warrants, released to news media by a lawmaker, seeks materials showing contact with Veco executives and documents concerning the proposed natural gas pipeline and petroleum production tax. A warrant to another lawmaker seeks information on corrections issues and an Anchorage developer. Lawmakers searched were Sens. John Cowdery, Donny Olson and Ben Stevens, and Reps. Vic Kohring, Pete Kott and Bruce Weyhrauch. Officials say the investigation is being run by the FBI and prosecutors from the U.S. Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section.
    • Sept. 1, 2006: Agents conduct additional searches in Anchorage and Willow, and interview current and former state lawmakers and others.
    • Mid-September: Agents return to Sen. Ben Stevens’ office seeking additional material. Among the items taken: information on the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, a memo from Stevens to Veco president Pete Leathard, computer hard drives and phone logs.
    • November: Federal grand jury issues subpoena to Robert Thorstenson Jr.
    • December: State Rep. Tom Anderson, who represents East Anchorage, is indicted on seven counts of corruption, including an accusation he took USD12,000 in bribes. Anderson pleaded not guilty. FBI corruption investigation: a timeline

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