A federal grand jury in St. Paul, Minn., is continuing the investigation that led to the indictment a few weeks ago of Rep. Berkley W. Bedell's fishing tackle company and four of its employes on charges of defrauding the government on import taxes on a Taiwan subsidiary.
Bedell, an Iowa Democrat who remains the chairman of the board and controlling stockholder of the firm he founded, Berkley and Co., Inc. of Spirit Lake, Iowa, said in a telephone interview that he considers himself cleared because he was not charged in the July 10 indictment. Daniel Schermer, the assistant U.S. attorney handling the case, said he couldn't comment except to say the investigation is continuing.
The indictment said the company and four officials, including its president and former comptroller, undervalued fishing rods and other equipment imported from the firm's Taiwan subsidiary and then made $1.4 million in reimbursements to the subsidiary between 1971 and 1978. Court records in the case said that as a result the company managed to avoid $250,000 in customs taxes.
Berkley and Co. is one of the biggest firms in the $1 billion-a-year fishing tackle and rod and reel industry, according to Clem Dippel, publisher of the Fishing Tackle Trade News. One financial counseling firm said the congressman's company had 1,200 employes and $27 million in sales last year.
The conspiracy count of the indictmewnt said that the congressman attended three meetings in May and June of 1973 where there was discussion of "additional processing payments," the reimbursements to the Taiwan subsidiary.
At one meeting Bedell allegedly stated that U.S. customs "ramifications" on the addditional payments "would be handled correctly in the United States."
"I have not been involved in anything to do with the customs' charges," Bedell responded. But he declined to anwer questions about whether or why he attended the meetings cited in the indictment.
"Some people in my firm have been charged with wrongdoing. I'm not going to get involved with saying something, when you're giving me a big grilling, that could adversely affect them."
Bedell, 60, is serving his fourth term in the House. He said he was so confident that the government wasn't interested in him that he has discharged his attorney in the case. The lawyer, Leonard Keyes of Minneapolis, said that government prosecutors never informed him that Bedell was a target of the investigation.
"I was assured all along that if he was in their gunsights they'd let us know," Keyes said. He said he wasn't aware that the investigation is continuing.
The case is being handled in Minnesota because that's where the customs' declarations on the imports are processed. It began in December, 1978, when U.S. Customers agents raided Berkley and Co. offices to seize documents, and the investigation was an issue in Bedell's 1980 campaign.
The firm is among several American fishing tackle companies that moved some oeprations abroad to compete with the cheap labor and prices of firms in the Far East. Dippel said some small American companies have had to depend on government loan rescues to stay in business against the foreign competition.
According to the charges, Bedell's firm paid a bribe to a Taiwanese official to avoid tax consequences there on the reimbursements from the United States. Frank Devine, former manager of the Taiwan subsidiary, has been cooperating with the government in the case, court records said.
Bedell said Devine was convicted of unrelated embezzlement and fraud charges in Taiwan.