Attorney general wants state probe as FBI snares CEO, GOP figures

Legal News Line May 11, 2007, 6:00am

Ethan Berkowitz

JUNEAU -- Alaska Attorney General Talis Colberg this week launched state probes as a growing federal bribery and conspiracy scandal ensnares Republican lawmakers and energy executives. One current and two former GOP state representatives were arrested last Friday charged with taking bribes from oil-services company VECO Corp. Company executives admitted improperly paying four Alaska legislators and their families $400,000 total over five years in exchange for votes, an FBI press release stated. The pleas highlight "the FBI's continued efforts ... to root out the source of public corruption," said Kenneth W. Kaiser, Assistant Director of the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division. State watchdogs had meanwhile been taking heat for their inaction on the issue. But Colberg has now instructed state lawyers to examine possible violations in areas not covered by the federal charges, the Anchorage Daily News reported Wednesday. The Alaska Public Offices Commission is also probing the scandal for possible breaches. The attorney general, who was appointed by Republican Governor Sarah Palin, is focusing his probe on relationship with VECO and lawmakers*, CBS's KTVA reported recently. Former state Rep. Ethan Berkowitz was highly critical of the state's lack of oversight in the matter*. "One of the things that ought to have happened is we need to have an independent audit and review of state oversight agencies," he said. Berkowitz ran for lieutenant governor on the losing 2006 Democratic gubernatorial ticket with Tony Knowles against Palin and Sean Parnell. He served seven years as Democratic House Minority leader in the Alaska state legislature and made a bid for governor in 2005. The three Republicans arrested last week were current state Rep. Vic Kohring of Wasilia and former Reps. Pete Kott of Eagle River and Bruce Weyhrauch of Juneau. Allen's plea agreement admits that he and VECO vice president Richard L. Smith conspired with three state representatives and two state senators to buy votes on pending legislation. One other is believed to be former Sen. Ben Stevens, KTVA reported, leaving the fifth unknown. At least six VECO executives donated more than $24,000 each to GOP candidates in Alaska during the past two-year election cycle, according to an Anchorage Daily News investigation. Allen alone gave over $30,000 over that time. The Daily News adds that VECO was convicted in 1985 of Alaskan campaign finance violations for channeling secret donations to political candidates via payroll deductions. *Original copy corrected.

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