Rep. Owen Pickett (D-Va.) has been cleared of conflict-of-interest allegations linked to a land deal with the federal government, the U.S. Interior Department's inspector general said yesterday.

The department conducted an inquiry into Pickett's involvement in a private partnership that has proposed selling land in Virginia Beach to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A report was referred to the U.S. Justice Department.

"We submitted it to the Justice Department and they declined to prosecute," said James Richards, inspector general of the Interior Department.

Federal prosecutors had been looking into Pickett's part-ownership in the Sandbridge Development Corp., which owns 1,666 acres of land near Back Bay in Virginia Beach.

When Pickett, whose district includes Norfolk and Virginia Beach, was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates in 1984, the partnership offered to sell land to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expand Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The government decided to buy the property in 1988, two years after Pickett had been elected to Congress, but the sale has not been concluded.

The Back Bay Citizens Alliance, a group that opposes expansion of the refuge, complained to the inspector general about Pickett's involvement in the partnership.