Federal Agents Search Stevens' Alaska Home
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Federal agents have searched the home of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. He is the longest serving Republican in the history of the U.S. Senate. Now investigators are looking into possible ties between Stevens and an oil contractor. The contractor is a man who pleaded guilty to bribing state legislators earlier this year. A federal official says FBI and IRS agents took photos and entered the senator's home in a small town about an hour outside Anchorage. NPR's Martin Kaste has been following developments from Seattle and joins us now. Why search his home, Martin?
MARTIN KASTE: Well, Steve, it all seems to date back to a remodeling job on Steven's house back in the year 2000. It was a pretty big remodeling job. They doubled the size of the house and there's some doubt about who paid for the construction. The suspicions seem to center on an oil executive named Bill Allen, and some people seem to believe that he oversaw the whole remodeling job and maybe even the billing.
So right now investigators are going back, they're talking to contractors, they're trying to figure out who paid for what. And apparently yesterday they were paying close attention just to the amenities, to the details on the property and on the house itself. It almost looked like they were assessing the value of the job.
INSKEEP: So as they looked at the real estate, we have to look at the possible connections here. Is it significant that an oil contractor would be involved somehow?
KASTE: It's very, very significant in Alaska because this executive, Bill Allen, used to be the chief of VECO, which is an oil services company based there, and if you're a politician in Alaska these days, you don't want your name connected to VECO. That's because VECO executives have pled guilty to bribing state officials. And right now one of them, Bill Allen, is cooperating with investigators.
INSKEEP: Well, how significant is it that the person who got connected to this man was Ted Stevens, of all senators?
KASTE: Ted Stevens is sort of a Mount Rushmore figure for Alaskans. He's been there from the very beginning. He was apparently working in the Eisenhower administration during the campaign for statehood, he helped organize it, and he's been part of the territorial government, part of the state government, in federal government, and he's just been there from the beginning. Some people refer to him as Uncle Ted. Others, they call him the senator for life.
INSKEEP: Is Stevens the only lawmaker implicated here?
KASTE: It doesn't look that way, no. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Don Young, Alaska's sole member in the House of Representatives, may also be investigated now for his connections with VECO.
INSKEEP: Okay. So two lawmakers then. What do they have to say about all this?
KASTE: Well, Representative Young has not commented on the reports that he's being investigated. In fact, the Justice Department has not even confirmed that he's being investigated. But as to Senator Stevens, he did sort of go against his lawyers' better judgment and he talked about this with reporters two weeks ago, and he told reporters that he and his wife paid for every bill they got for that renovation with their own money.
INSKEEP: Can I just ask what Senator Stevens' constituents are saying, thinking, reading about all this?
KASTE: Well, there's some dismay because Senator Stevens has been such a big figure in the history of the state, and in his Uncle Ted role, you know, there's a lot of affection for him. They've named the airport after him in Anchorage. But as this investigation keeps broadening out to more and more officials, both state legislators and now it looks like members of the federal delegation to Congress, there seems to be some real disquiet here. And in fact the governor of the state, Sarah Palin, was elected last year challenging her own party, her own Republican Party, challenging the incumbent governor, in part on the ethics issue, and she was elected on the strength of that. So there's a lot of interest in sort of cleaning up the situation in Alaska.
INSKEEP: NPR's Martin Kaste has been covering an investigation in Alaska. Martin, thanks very much.
KASTE: You're welcome, Steve.
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