Tuesday, July 31, 2007

FBI searches home of Alaska Sen. Stevens

FBI searches home of Alaska Sen. Stevens
By Yereth Rosen

GIRDWOOD, Alaska (Reuters) - The FBI and IRS have searched the home of Republican Sen. Ted Stevens in a ski resort in Alaska as part of an investigation into his links with an oil-services company, officials said on Monday.

"All I can really say is we are conducting a search at the residence. We can't go any deeper into detail than that," said Dave Heller, spokesman for the FBI in Anchorage.

The FBI and IRS entered the senator's Girdwood, Alaska home in the early afternoon with a search warrant. Television and news media swarmed the two-story alpine ski lodge in the shadow of Mt. Alyeska while agents combed the grounds.

The longest-serving Republican in U.S Senate history, known for delivering billions of federal dollars to his home state, Stevens in a statement said: "My attorneys were advised this morning that federal agents wished to search my home in Girdwood in connection with an ongoing investigation.

"I continue to believe this investigation should proceed to its conclusion without any appearance that I have attempted to influence the outcome," it said.

Girdwood is about 40 miles south of Anchorage, the state's largest city. The vacation enclave is nestled between Turnagain Arm, a glacial-fed body of water, and densely forested mountains.

Stevens, 83, is the subject of a grand-jury investigation into his links with managers of VECO Corp., the state's largest oil-services company, as well as numerous unrelated fisheries matters.

In May, Bill Allen, then the chief executive of VECO, along with a vice president, Rick Smith, pleaded guilty to several federal corruption charges. The two admitted paying over $400,000 to bribe Alaskan lawmakers.

Allen had been a financial supporter of Stevens' campaigns and a partner with him on a race horse. He also oversaw a project to remodel Stevens' Girdwood home in 2000, vetting bills and construction work.


The Anchorage Daily News has reported that contractors who worked on the remodeling of Stevens' home had their records subpoenaed by the federal grand jury.

Stevens told reporters two weeks ago money for the remodeling came out of his own pocket, the paper reported on its web site. "Every bill that was sent to us has been paid, personally, with our own money, and that's all there is to it," Stevens told reporters. "It's our own money."

The investigation of the senior Republican comes as Democrats, who won power last year with the help of voter disgust over mostly Republican scandals, offered legislation to clean up congressional ethics.

Democrats have accused Republicans of a "culture of corruption," citing bribery convictions of Republican Reps. Bob Ney of Ohio and Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California and the downfall of convicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

But Democratic Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana also was indicted on bribery charges this year after $90,000 was found in his freezer. He has pleaded innocent.

Stevens is the former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and still has considerable clout as the senior Republican on the defense appropriations subcommittee. Through the committee, he has delivered billions of federal funds to public works projects in the state.

Stevens, affectionately known as "Uncle Ted" in Alaska, has also been a champion of the oil industry, and pressed tirelessly to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska to oil development.

One of the few remaining World War II veterans left in Congress, Stevens served in the Eisenhower administration before being appointed to the Senate in 1968. He has been re-elected six times.

(Additional reporting by Dai Wakabayashi in Seattle and Vicki Allen in Washington)