SEPTEMBER 01, 2006
An army of federal agents searched the offices of six Alaska lawmakers believed to have accepted bribes from a wealthy oil company that contributes heavily to political campaigns and has been fined for funneling secret donations to candidates through an employee payroll deduction plan.
The marathon raid was part of an investigation into Alaska’s largest oil services company, VECO corp., targeted by federal authorities for a variety of suspicious activities including financially rewarding public officials and showering them with gifts. Additionally, a recently passed overhaul of state oil-production taxes is tremendously benefiting the oil giant and obviously striking the curiosity of authorities.
The lawmakers targeted in the probe are Senate President Ben Stevens of Anchorage, senators John Cowdery of Anchorage and Donny Olson of Nome, state representatives Pete Kott of Eagle River, Vic Kohring of Wasilla and Bruce Weyhrauch of Juneau. Federal agents hauled away boxes of files, marked “evidence” from the lawmakers’ offices.
VECO is considered a titan in Alaska business. It is huge with projects from the Prudhoe Bay to the Russian Far East and the United Arab Emirates. The company is also a dominant political power in the state and its executives and employees are among the most generous contributors to statewide campaigns.
During the last statewide election in 2004, VECO’s top three donors alone (President Pete Leathard, Chairman Bill Allen and Chief Financial Officer Robert Chan) donated around $125,000 to political campaigns. In 2000 VECO executives and employees donated nearly $130,000 to candidates. The company has also hired active lawmakers as “consultants.”
In the mid 1980s VECO was fined more than $72,000, the largest fine ever by the Alaska Public Offices Commission, for funneling secret donations to a group of candidates through an illegal employee payroll deduction plan. With all this information readily available, it seems amazing that federal authorities waited so long to investigate the company and its political friends.
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