Previous editions of this article in print and on the Web incorrectly identified state Rep. Jay Ramras (R) as Ray Ramras. This version has been corrected.
'I'll Sell My Soul to the Devil'
Monday, November 12, 2007
ANCHORAGE -- When the FBI came looking for corruption in Alaska politics, it found an excellent perch in Suite 604 of the Baranof Hotel in Juneau, the state capital. There, a profane septuagenarian named Bill Allen did business throughout a 2006 special session called to set taxes on the oil industry. With hundred-dollar bills in his front pocket for ease of access when lawmakers turned up with their hands out, the oil-services company executive turned in a bravura performance before the pinhole camera that federal agents installed opposite his favorite chair.[an error occurred while processing this directive]
"Let me count first here," Allen said, shushing a former statehouse speaker as he counted out a bribe in video footage entered as evidence in the lawmaker's September trial, one of several crowding the docket of the federal court here.
On another tape, Pete Kott, the former Republican speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives, crowed as he described beating back a tax bill opposed by oil companies. "I had to cheat, steal, beg, borrow and lie," Kott said. "Exxon's happy. BP's happy. I'll sell my soul to the devil."
"Well, that will stay in this room," one lobbyist said as a midnight session wound down.
It did not, of course. Since breaking into public view a year ago when federal agents raided lawmakers' offices and homes -- finding $32,200 neatly stacked in a closet of Kott's condo -- the federal probe has produced four indictments, three convictions, three guilty pleas and a rapt audience keen to see how high into Alaska's political hierarchy the rot reaches.
Officially, the scandal has remained confined to Juneau, where Alaska lawmakers had grown so accustomed to operating under the presumption of impropriety that several of them embroidered ball caps with the letters CBC, for "Corrupt Bastards Club." (An Anchorage coffeehouse now offers Corrupt Bastards Brew.) But with signs that the investigation is brushing against Alaska's lone congressman, Don Young (R), and its longtime and venerated senator Ted Stevens (R), residents of the Last Frontier are experiencing a rare spasm of soul-searching.
"These disclosures have come as a real shock, because of revelations of what was going on, and because Alaskans have always felt that they are special," said Vic Fisher, 83, one of four surviving members of the convention that only a half-century ago wrote Alaska's state constitution. "And that this thing is ruining our national reputation."
Young, who has represented the nation's largest state in the U.S. House for 34 years, has not been named in the proceedings -- yet he reports spending $450,000 on legal fees over the past six months. Veco, the oil-field services company that Allen owned, was Young's largest campaign contributor.
Stevens, an iconic figure who has dominated Alaska politics for decades, has said little publicly since agents swarmed over his mountainside home, the renovation of which was overseen by Allen.
But Ben Stevens, the senator's son and a former Alaska Senate president, has been at the center of the scandal from the start. When Allen pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy charges, he stated that almost a quarter of a million dollars in consulting fees paid to the younger Stevens was in fact bribery.
"About the only ones that I can trust is you and ol' Ben Stevens," the oil executive told Kott on one tape.
The younger Stevens maintains his innocence, most recently in a call to an Anchorage radio talk show that noted he had received fees from fishing companies that benefited from federal grants his father engineered.