Amid FBI Probes, Senator Drops Controversial Project

By Justin Rood

May 10, 2007 1:22pm

Amid expanding FBI probes into public corruption in Alaska, the state’s senior U.S. senator confirmed he is dropping support for a controversial program that is receiving scrutiny by federal investigators and prosecutors. The decision not to push for millions in funding for the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board "was made months ago, and it has nothing to do with the ongoing investigations in Alaska," a spokesman for Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, told ABC News. Stevens was instrumental in founding the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board in 2003 and has helped secure it more than $100 million in taxpayer funding since then, which the group has passed on to a handful of companies and industry organizations with ties to Stevens. That arrangement has raised eyebrows, notably at the FBI, which is reportedly investigating the operation.  Many of the companies receiving grants have been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors. The companies have denied wrongdoing and are said to be cooperating with the probe. As FBI interest in the marketing board fails to dissipate, the endeavor may have become a headache for Stevens. Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage. One of his senior aides and the senator’s son Ben were instrumental in founding the marketing board, and Ben served as its first president. At the same time, the younger Stevens worked as a paid consultant to many of the companies receiving grants. During that period he was also a state senator, serving as president of the Alaskan Senate from 2005 until he retired from his seat at the end of 2006, shortly after FBI agents raided his office. Critics say Ben accepted more than hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees from fishing companies who received millions of dollars from the AFMB. Sen. Stevens’ decision was not a sign he no longer backed the marketing board, his office told ABC News and others, including Roll Call newspaper, which first reported the move. He encouraged the organization to apply for funding through a separate grant program, which supports marketing boards in other parts of the United States. On Monday, plea deals were signed by two top executives of Alaskan oil services company VECO, which has been a major contributor to both Ted and Ben Stevens’ campaigns. They admitted to charges of bribery and conspiracy, agreed to cooperate with prosecutors investigating an alleged bribery scheme in the Alaskan legislature. News accounts Tuesday confirmed that Ben Stevens is a target of that investigation, along with his business partner Trevor McCabe, the former senate aide to Ben’s father who helped found the troubled marketing board. Ben Stevens has denied doing anything criminal. McCabe has not commented publicly on the matter and did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story. Sen. Stevens is not known for backing down in the face of controversy. Nicknamed "The Hulk," he is known for using his famous bluster to some effect. In 2005, he threatened to resign from Congress if his infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" did not receive massive federal funding — despite the fact that even his own constituents called for the money to go instead to rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. Eventually the money came through, and Stevens held his seat.

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