Murkowski Unaware for Months of Aide’s Plea Deal

Senator Lisa Murkowski says she didn’t know for months that her fisheries aide had signed a plea deal with federal authorities admitting to fishing illegally. And Murkowski’s spokesman says if she had, she would’ve fired him.

Arne Fuglvog resigned from Murkowski’s staff on Sunday, one day before he was formally charged and his plea agreement became public.

Murkowski says Fuglvog told her one month prior that he planned to enter into the plea agreement. But Fuglvog had actually signed the plea deal back in April. Murkowski’s spokesman Matthew Felling says the Senator did not know that.

“Only to find out this week that the paperwork had been signed into, that in affect the charges were filed by virtue of him signing, and he had plead guilty on April 8.”

Fuglvog admitted to breaking federal commercial fisheries law by falsifying catch records. He agreed to pay $150,000 and serve 10 months prison time.

Questions arose this week about exactly what Senator Murkowski knew about Fuglvog’s violations, and when. She initially deferred responding, saying the legal process needed to go play out. But spokesman Matthew Felling says when she learned that a plea deal had been struck months ago without her knowledge, she started answering.

“The Senator had been reluctant to expand on the statement before the court accepted Arne’s plea next week. But what got her to expand on that message was the new information that came to her attention, the entire office’s attention, namely in the form of the legal documents that become publically available this week.”

Felling says Senator Murkowski was first told her staffer faced a fishing violation charge around the New Year, but that she wanted to let the legal process take its course, believing “innocent til proven guilty.”

When Fuglvog came forward to tell the Senator he would plead guilty, she told him he’d have to resign, but kept him on staff another month until right before the charges were filed. Murkowski’s spokesman says she now regrets not letting him go right then.

And Felling says if Murkowski had known sooner the details of Fuglvog’s plea deal and admission, she would have fired him right away.

“And if on June 29 he had told the Senator about the plea agreement he signed in April, or if she had learned about it, she would’ve embarked on a wholly different course of action with regards to Arne, immediate termination.”

Fuglvog admitted to falsifying catch records repeatedly between 2001 and 2006. During that time he was a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which regulates fishing off Alaska. He joined Murkowski’s staff right after the time period the allegations cover in fall of 2006. In 2009 Fuglvog was on the short list to run the National Marine Fisheries Service. He pulled out of consideration two years ago, saying the process was taking too long.

Senator Murkowski could not comment personally for this story because she’s traveling to Ketchikan, but her spokesman says she’s willing to answer follow-up questions.

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