Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ted Stevens Would Have Liked this Newspaper Story


Washington Post, posted yesterday:   "Despite Earmark Ban, Lawmakers Try to Give Money to Hundreds of Pet Projects."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

More Media Notes: Lisa Murkowski and I Appear on TV Talking about Sexual Abuse Charges for Bill Allen


KTVA, Channel 11 in Anchorage, has posted its story on the new call for Bill Allen's prosecution on charges of transportation of an underage girl across state lines for immoral purposes.

Note that I used to prosecute child sexual cases for the State of Alaska.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Traffic Cop in the Alaska Winter: Notes on News of the Day


U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has written the U.S. Department of Justice seeking "an objective, thorough and independent" investigation of why the federal government has not prosecuted--and has apparently blocked the State of Alaska's prosecution of--Bill Allen for allegedly bringing an underage girl across state lines for "immoral and exploitative purposes."  

KTVA-TV, Anchorage's Channel 11, interviewed me about this letter, and that station's report should appear tonight.  My earlier thoughts on Sen. Murkowski's question are here.

The U.S. House Ethics Committee will decide by January 11 whether it will investigate U.S. Rep. Don Young (R.-Alaska) on a matter that apparently involves contributions to his legal defense fund.    

Amanda Coyne of Alaska Dispatch has a substantial piece exploring whether the collapse of the prosecution of then-U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R.-Alaska) will lead to reforms aimed at stemming prosecutorial abuses of the discovery process.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Groh on the Radio: Extended Interview on the Week's News on "POLAR PEN"


Here's a link to a discussion I had with reporter Robert Woolsey that goes over the investigation of the Ted Stevens prosecutors and the Ted Stevens trial.   It comes from the website of the Sitka public radio station KCAW.   Listening to it this morning, I was struck that this is the kind of long-form coverage of complicated issues that only public broadcasting would put on the airwaves.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

KTVA Channel 11 in Anchorage Posts Police Files on Investigations into Bill Allen's Alleged Crimes with Underage Girls


KTVA, the Channel 11 TV station in Anchorage, has posted files from the Anchorage Police Department generated by  investigations into crimes involving minors allegedly committed by former Alaska powerbroker, tycoon, and convicted briber Bill Allen.   The station's website also features a piece by Bill McAllister in both video and print form that asks the question "Did the federal government sell out victims of sexual abuse in order to nail some politicians for taking cheap bribes?"

Given that it's Thanksgiving, I don't have time to answer that question or set out my different perspective on it except to point you to my earlier blog post on the related topic of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski asking Attorney General Eric Holder why Allen has not been prosecuted for sex crimes.    That post ends with the question with this question for Sen. Murkowski:   "When will you start pressing the Attorney General to explain why the federal government has not prosecuted Ben Stevens, the former President of the Alaska State Senate whom Bill Allen pleaded guilty to bribing?"    

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mark Allen's Ex-Wife Accused of Murder


If you have extra time over the Thanksgiving holiday, you might want to check out this racy tale in the Seattle Weekly about how the former wife of Mark Allen--Bill Allen's son--is facing a murder charge in Washington state.  

The story contains details of Mark Allen's life after his horse  won the 2009 Kentucky Derby.   A former 50 to 1 longshot, Mine That Bird now has its own website and is "the subject of a new series of graphic novels for kids and a soon-to-be animated movie."  

The article--dated November 16--does get at least one detail wrong about Bill Allen, the former CEO of the now-defunct multinational oil-services giant VECO.   The piece says that Bill Allen "still faces prison time, but hasn't been sentenced."    In fact, Bill Allen was scheduled to be released yesterday following a period in custody that included time in federal prison and a stay in a halfway house in his home state of New Mexico.      

This Seattle Weekly piece joins other media coverage in giving you a feeling that Mark Allen has lived a more, um, colorful life than most.   He met his ex-wife--variously described in the article as "leggy" and "formerly drop-dead-gorgeous"--in 2006.   This was the same year his father became a federal informant and apparently began negotiating a plea agreement that spared Mark from facing prosecution for bribery, and the year before the sale of VECO apparently netted Mark Allen $30 million.   Mark Allen met his wife when she chauffeured him in a limousine in Las Vegas she started driving after competing as Miss Washington in a beauty contest held in that gambling metropolis.    

Happy Thanksgiving.   As another holiday gift for you, I'll repeat what I told a reporter this morning.   The odds are higher that it will hit 85 degrees in Alaska tomorrow than there will be any prosecutions of the prosecutors for any acts committed in the investigations of the "POLAR PEN" public corruption scandals.   Despite today's editorial in the Anchorage Daily News calling for either for a prosecution of Bill Allen for child abuse charges or an explanation of his non-prosecution, the multimillionaire former tycoon and powerbroker will not be charged for any crimes involving underaged girls that allegedly occurred before August 30, 2006, the day he started cooperating with the federal government in its probe of Alaska public corruption.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bill Allen Will Escape Prosecution for Crimes Involving Underage Minors


It looks very much like Bill Allen will skate on charges involving sexual abuse of minors.    The State of Alaska's top prosecutor said that absent new information, the ex-CEO of the now-defunct oil services giant VECO will not be prosecuted by the state on the allegations of sex with underage girls.   The federal government has already said that it will take a pass.   

Richard Svobodny, deputy attorney general, told the Anchorage Daily News and Anchorage's KTVA Channel 11 that a major problem with state prosecution of Allen for sexual abuse of minors was insufficient evidence to prove that he had sex with a girl 15 years of age or younger.   Setting aside exceptions that don't apply to Allen, the age of consent under Alaska state law is 16. 

Svobodny said that his review of the evidence involving "five or so" underage females indicated, however, that there was a good case to be made against Allen on federal charges under the Mann Act for transporting a person under the age of 18 across state lines for purposes of prostitution.   One of Allen's accusers told investigators that he brought her multiple times from Seattle to Anchorage for sex when she was 16.

There will be no federal prosecution of Allen for crimes with underage girls, either.   The state lawyer told the Daily News that federal prosecutors never explicitly said why they would not allow Allen to be prosecuted under the Mann Act, even when the State of Alaska asked permission to have a state attorney to be cross-designated to bring the federal charge.    Svobodny said that federal officials alluded to Allen's conviction and sentence on federal public corruption charges.  

In addition to this "We already nailed this guy" proposition suggesting concerns about resource allocation, rough justice, or both, another clue about the lack of future federal or state prosecution of Bill Allen is to be found in KTVA's account.   The TV station reported that "Svobodny says there were impediments to bringing state charges against Allen, either for public corruption or for sexual encounters with teenage girls...."

Those "impediments" for the State of Alaska might include the statute of limitations as to public corruption charges and inadequate corroboration regarding sexual acts with girls then under 16 as to sexual abuse of minor charges under state law.    For both the federal and state governments, however, the "can of worms" issue could be another "impediment" to any new criminal charges against Allen.    Any additional charges against Allen by any government for crimes committed before August 30, 2006 --his "flip day"--would have to address the practical and legal issues created by a full airing of the conversations between Allen and federal officials when he started as a cooperating witness and informant.  

(A bonus--perhaps--to clicking on the link for KTVA is some footage of me discussing the court order issued yesterday about the special counsel's investigation of the prosecutors involved in the Ted Stevens trial.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Interesting Discussions Available from the Book Tour for Crude Awakening


Amanda Coyne and Tony Hopfinger's series of media events to promote their new book Crude Awakening--a tour of recent political events on the Last Frontier, including the public corruption scandals--has included both an online chat on and an appearance on the Alaska Public Radio Network's talk show "Talk of Alaska."   I learned things from both of them.

TV News


I'll be on KTVA Channel 11 tonight at 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 10 p.m. talking about the court order on the investigation into the Ted Stevens prosecutors.   I was interviewed by veteran Alaska journalist Bill McAllister.

UPDATED WITH MORE NEWS AND SPECULATION--Judge Sullivan Announces Special Counsel Found "Widespread" and "At Times Intentional" Misconduct by Ted Stevens Prosecutors, but Recommends No Prosecution for the Prosecutors


The trial judge in the Ted Stevens case has issued an order summarizing a report by special counsel investigating whether prosecutors involved in that case should be prosecuted for criminal contempt of court.    U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan states that special counsel "concluded that the investigation and prosecution of Senator Stevens 'were permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated his defense and his testimony, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government's key witness...'" 

Judge Sullivan states, however, that Special Counsel Henry F. Schuelke, III does not recommend charging anyone for criminal contempt because the trial judge never gave a specific "clear and unequivocal" order for the prosecutors to follow the law on sharing evidence with the defense (a process known as "discovery" in the law).   

The judge will allow the review of the report by the Department of Justice, "the subject attorneys," and the lawyers for Senator Stevens before deciding how much to release.    Although that review process will run on at least until January, Judge Sullivan's order makes clear his desire to release to the public as much of the report as possible.

Those are the headlines from today's 12-page order.   Now for some details and analysis:

1.   This order and the report it is based on are blistering for those involved with the investigation and prosecution of Ted Stevens.    According to the order, Schuelke and his co-investigator William B. Shields “found that at least some of the concealment was willful and intentional, and related to many of the issues raised by the defense during the course of the Stevens trial.”   Judge Sullivan's order says that special counsel found "significant, widespread, and at times intentional misconduct."

2.    Although the report does not further describe any of the information that was improperly withheld from the defense, it is clear that much of it has not been officially disclosed.    It is also clear that some of that information relates to allegations of sexual abuse of minor(s) by Bill Allen, that person only referenced in the report as "the government's key witness." 

3.    The announced decision not to prosecute any prosecutors for criminal contempt based on the lack of a "clear and unequivocal" order from the trial judge to the prosecutors to follow the law on discovery seems--with all due respect--to be a dodge.    A better way to understand the lack of prosecution comes in the report's use of the word "systematic" to describe the discovery failures.   The collapse of the Ted Stevens prosecution produced an orgy of fingerpointing among the government attorneys involved, and some of those fingers pointed at the cultural attitudes about discovery within the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section.    Veteran Washington lawyer Schuelke may have decided it was too difficult--or unfair--to single out individual prosecutors for prosecution in this situation.  

Additionally, the suicide last year of former Ted Stevens prosecutor Nicholas Marsh may have brought more complications to efforts to hold any government attorney criminally responsible for the misconduct found in the Schuelke report.   Some of the remaining prosecutors under fire seemed susceptible to the temptation to dump it all on the dead guy, and that possible defense might have been a factor in stopping any prosecution of a prosecutor for criminal contempt.   

The judge's order includes a footnote stating "Mr. Schuelke 'offer[s] no opinion as to whether a prosecution for Obstruction of Justice under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 1503 might lie against one or more of the subject attorneys and might meet the standard enunciated in 9-27.220 of the Principles of Federal Prosecution.'"    Although this footnote seems to kick the ball into the Justice Department's court, this blogger says that no prosecutor in the Ted Stevens case will face any prosecution for any offense related to this matter.

4.   The court's order sets out deadlines for a process to release various materials.   Those sealed materials include transcripts and pleadings in the cases of former state legislators Pete Kott and Vic Kohring as well as Ted Stevens.   The order also references materials from the prosecution of former Anchorage businessman Josef Boehm.   That case involved Bambi Tyree, whom Allen is alleged to have had sexual relations with when Tyree was underage.

5.   The judge really wants to release as much as possible of this 500-page report, for which Schuelke and Shields reviewed more than 150,000 pages of documents and conducted  numerous witness interviews and 12 depositions over two and a half years.   About a third of the 12-page court order is devoted to laying out arguments and legal precedents justifying why the report should be made public.    This order sets up a big battle over disclosure, as the Justice Department and some or all of the attorneys whose conduct is scrutinized will not want some of the report released.

6.  In addition to the probe by the special counsel appointed by Judge Sullivan, the Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility ("OPR") has conducted a separate and parallel investigation in its role as DoJ's internal ethics watchdog.    The Associated Press reported today that "a lawyer familiar with the investigation" said that OPR's draft report found that Department of Justice attorneys Joseph Bottini and James Goeke, as well as FBI agent Mary Beth Kepner, "engaged in misconduct" in the Ted Stevens trial.   The AP report has similar information to an NPR report last year.    Although Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month that OPR "had just about finalized" its report, the AP reported today that "lawyers familiar with that investigation" said that it remained open.     Whatever the status of the OPR report, it is far more likely that significant portions of the court-ordered special counsel report conducted by Schuelke and Shields will be released publicly than it is that the Justice Department will make available the OPR report.   

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

CORRECTION--Bill Allen Gets Released Next Week


I got my Tuesdays mixed up as I read the Associated Press article referenced in my last post.   Bill Allen is scheduled to be released next Tuesday (as opposed to yesterday).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bill Allen Reportedly to Be Released from Federal Custody


The Associated Press reports that Federal Bureau of Prisons show that convicted briber Bill Allen is scheduled to be released from custody today.    The long-time CEO of the now-defunct oil-services multinational corporation VECO and Alaska powerbroker had been in a halfway house in New Mexico, the state in which he was born and his son has a ranch.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Similarities in the Fall of Two Icons


It is a sadly familiar story.       

A man starts with little and rises to the top of his profession.   He becomes a national legend with record-breaking longevity in his field.    He is renowned for his power and good works.   He towers over the landscape, earning the admiration, affection, and love of many people he has never met.  By the time he reaches his 80s, he is an icon within his home region, where his success makes him a one-man economic powerhouse.   Monuments are named after him, and he seems untouchable. 

Less attractively, his triumphs over several decades seems to produce an arrogance and a sense of entitlement.   He ages in place to the point that his old friends have all died or fallen away, leaving him without any peer around him who will tell him he is wrong or is making a misjudgment.   He becomes so identified with the institution he has served that it appears to become difficult for him to distinguish between the interests of that institution and his own interests.    A political tone-deafness creeps in.   He may even want to establish a dynasty by trying to hang on long enough to hand over his job to his son.   Most unfortunately, he either cannot see or cannot address appropriately the terrible flaws of a close associate--a long-time friend whose crimes include an apparent predilection towards sexual abuse of minors--and the flaws of that close associate are central in causing the great man to fall.

As the news and commentary of the last several days have pounded in to us, this is the story of Joe Paterno, the head coach of the football team at Pennsylvania State University for 45 years until last week.   It is also the story of Ted Stevens, Alaska's U.S. Senator from 1968 until his departure following his defeat at the polls in 2008.   

There is more to say later about the similarities--and the obvious differences--between "JoePa" and "Uncle Ted."   The columnist Scott Ostler has already passed on a reader's quotation of F. Scott Fitzgerald:   "Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Will Wonders Never Cease Department: Vic Kohring Has Sued Bill Allen for Defamation and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress


Amanda Coyne of Alaska Dispatch reports that ex-State Rep. Vic Kohring (R.-Wasilla) has sued Bill Allen.   Filed last June, the suit reportedly includes claims of defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and damage to reputation.   According to the report, Kohring alleges that Allen's testimony against the former legislator caused him to lose his family and left him "seen as a corrupt politician."

The problems with Kohring's position in this lawsuit include (a) the FBI tapes and (b) Kohring's plea of guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Attorney General Says that Internal Department of Justice Report on Prosecutorial Failures in Ted Stevens Case Will Be Finished Soon and Could Be Released


To flesh out the comments of Attorney General Eric Holder to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee today, he said that the Department of Justice's internal ethics unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility, has "just about finalized" a "multi- hundred page report" on the Ted Stevens case, which Holder arranged to have dismissed in 2009 in the wake of revelations of botched discovery.   Asked if the Justice Department would share the report with the Senate Judiciary Committee, Holder said that decision "is up to the people at OPR."  

Traffic Cop in the Winter Sunshine: Two Links for You


I am on deadline, so all I will do today is point to two other articles:

1.   U.S. Senators grilled Attorney General Eric Holder today on possible criminal or professional sanctions for the team of prosecutors who handled the case against former U.S. Ted Stevens.   You can read an account from Politico here

2.  If you haven't seen Jack Abramoff's "60 Minutes" interview from Sunday night, here is a summary from the Washington Post and a link to the program.      

Thursday, November 3, 2011

It Takes One to Tell Us How to Clean It Up: Convicted Briber Jack Abramoff Gives Tips for Fighting Public Corruption


Fresh from more than three and a half years in prison for crimes including bribery and fraud, former Washington super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff is pushing a new book that offers suggestions on how to clean up the system.

The Internet is alive with the proposals of the man in the black hat, who says that he held sway over 100 Members of Congress:

1.  Shut down campaign contributions and gifts from lobbyists

2.  End campaign contributions from recipients from federal funds

3.  Slam shut the revolving door by prohibiting anyone who has ever been a Member of Congress or a member of the Congressional staff from ever working for "any company, organization, or association which lobbies the federal government"--Abramoff says the ban on working must include what is called "consulting," and he announces that the best route to influence was to promise high-paying jobs to the high-ranking staff members of Members of Congress

4.  Institute term limits for Members of Congress that would limit Senators to 12 years in office and Representatives to six years in office

5.  Ban Members of Congress from proposing, promoting, or perhaps even voting on projects that bring federal money to their districts or states

6.  Have state legislatures--not voters--elect U.S. Senators 

One commentator points out that Abramoff's reform agenda might be partly motivated by an implicit suggestion that the problem is a whole worm-ridden system, not just the famously rotten apple that he is.   There are obviously a lot of arguments for and against each of these proposals, but Abramoff's publicity blitz for his book--including an appearance on the TV program "60 Minutes" this Sunday--insures that they will get some attention.