ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Federal prosecutors have decided not to pursue an investigation of U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, over connections to an Alaska businessman convicted of bribing state lawmakers.
Young, 77, has been under investigation for several years, but documents filed in federal court last year first publicly linked him to a wide-ranging investigation of corruption in Alaska.
Young has denied any wrongdoing and repeatedly declined to speak on the matter, citing advice of his lawyers. His campaign has spent more than $1 million on his legal expenses.
Young's legal team was notified Wednesday by the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice that the case will not be prosecuted, said Young spokeswoman Meredith Kenny. Young's office issued a news release that was short on details but noted Young's "full cooperation" in the probe. It did not say how Young's lawyers were notified.
"I'm not allowed to comment or say anything other than what's in the press release, unfortunately," Kenny said.
DOJ spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said the agency declined to comment.
Young is running for his 20th term this year and has a Republican challenger, political newcomer Sheldon Fisher, in the Aug. 24 Republican primary. Fisher did not see Wednesday's announcement as exoneration. He said Young should release the DOJ correspondence clearing him of federal corruption charges.
"A decision that there is a lack of evidence to prosecute Mr. Young is not the same as being cleared of federal corruption," he said in a statement.
Young first won statewide office in 1973 in a special election after U.S. Rep. Nick Begich, a Democrat and father of current U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, was killed in a plane crash in southeast Alaska.
In the federal documents filed in October, the state's only representative in the House was identified as "United States Representative A" in connection with the sentencing of Bill Allen, a key figure in the corruption probes of state lawmakers and former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens. Allen is serving a 21-month prison term stemming from his 2007 guilty plea to bribery, conspiracy and tax charges.
The court papers alleged that Young illegally received gifts totaling up to nearly $200,000 over 13 years from VECO Corp., Allen's now-defunct oil field services company. According to the documents, Allen and former VECO vice president Rick Smith authorized corporate funds to pay up to $15,000 a year between 1993 and 2006 for expenses associated with Young's annual pig roast fundraiser.
After Young's federal investigation surfaced, he amended his campaign finance reports to show he reimbursed Allen about $38,000 for fundraiser expenses.
Allen was the lead witness in the botched corruption trial of Stevens, who was found guilty in 2008 of failing to disclose gifts from Allen. Charges against Stevens, 86, were thrown out last year after the Justice Department acknowledged that it failed to turn over evidence favorable to the defense prior to trial.
Since the case against Ted Stevens imploded, prosecuting Young became much more unlikely. The entire prosecution team investigating Alaska corruption is under scrutiny for its handling of the case, and the testimony of the key witness has been called into question.
In another matter involving Young, lawmakers in 2008 requested an investigation into an earmark that made its way into the highway spending bill he oversaw as chairman of the House Transportation Committee. The bill included $10 million to widen a Florida highway. The final version, until revised, redirected that money to an interchange that benefited a developer who did some fundraising for Young. There was no active investigation of Young as of last October.
Young's Washington, D.C., attorney, John Dowd, said in an e-mail that the DOJ investigation of Young is over.
A former Young congressional staffer, Fraser Verrusio, was indicted in March 2009 on corruption charges for taking a free trip to the 2003 World Series, another case to come out of the scandal surrounding ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Verrusio, 39, worked under Young when the Alaska congressman was chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Mark Zachares, also a former Young aide, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in April 2007. Zachares acknowledged accepting gifts and a golf trip to Scotland from Abramoff's team in exchange for official acts for them.
Young filed early in this current term, in June 2009, to seek another term in office, saying he expected challengers. The subsequent death of his wife, Lu, last year did not change his resolve.
"Lu and I made the decision to run for re-election together, and I will continue to fight for her and for all Alaskans," he said at the time.
Associated Press writer Becky Bohrer in Juneau contributed to this report.