Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage
Representative Don Young is dodging reporters’ questions about a federal corruption probe. Last night at the Republican Picnic in Anchorage, Young refused to elaborate on a press release from his office that said federal prosecutors have ended their investigation of him. This afternoon his office again declined further comment on it. Young spent more than a million dollars on legal defense. Earlier, Young had said he wouldn’t comment because the investigation was ongoing. Now his Republican primary election opponent says because the investigation is over, Young owes the public an explanation.
During federal trials of former state legislators, former VECO Incorporated owner Bill Allen has testified that he and his Vice President, Rick Smith, made illegal campaign contributions to Young and footed the bill for fundraising pig roasts for him. But since that time, the prosecution team that worked with Allen has been pulled off the case by the Attorney General for withholding evidence from defendants’ legal teams. In one highly publicized case, the conviction of former US Senator Ted Stevens was reversed because of prosecutorial misconduct. Ever since then, the Justice department has refused repeatedly to make any comments to the press about its corruption probe.
Yesterday, Don Young’s primary election opponent, communication executive Sheldon Fisher, also started pushing for answers from the Justice Department.
Fisher admits that much of the information he seeks can probably be withheld by prosecutors under confidentiality exemptions. But he says there may be some correspondence with Congress that would have to be disclosed. That’s because Congress specifically requested an investigation of one matter involving Young – the Coconut Road earmark, which is money for a highway interchange at Coconut Road in Florida that was somehow added to the massive federal transportation bill while it was in Young’s Transportation Committee after being passed. In other words, the earmark was never voted on, and nobody has ever explained how it got into the bill. Fisher said the time has come for that explanation.
The Coconut Road interchange would have benefitted a real estate executive who made a major campaign contribution to Young, but Young has said that was not the reason for the earmark.
The winner of the Young-Fisher primary contest will face Democrat Harry Crawford, who has called Young a “legislator for hire.” Yesterday, Crawford said it’s important to remember that the conclusion of the federal investigation of Young does not necessarily mean he is innocent.
Bill Allen has not been called upon to testify since his sentencing last October. A judge has ruled that evidence provided by Allen that was withheld from bribery defendant Pete Kott would not have been sufficient to change the jury’s guilty verdict. A motion to reverse the verdict against former state Representative Vic Kohring for similar reasons involving Allen is still pending.
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