Ben Stevens Fined $150 & $150: APOC Blind to Corruption6/28/06
Anchorage, AlaskaBy Stephen Taufen - In today's hearing by the Alaska Public Offices Commission (continued from last Thursday), regarding the second of four complaints against State senate president Ben A. Stevens, two more $150 fines were imposed. That's right, a deliberate and repeated pattern of misreporting behavior on public disclosure documents is apparently only worthy of a ruler slap on the palm, each time: Three, so far, counting last December.
All regard complaints filed by former legislator, Ray Metcalfe, the founder and chairman of the Republican Moderate Party of Alaska. In December of 2005, APOC fined Stevens $150 for failing to disclose his chairmanship of a marketing board that has doled out millions of federal dollars to fishing interests. Metcalfe recently outlined how over $9 million of the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board's salmon allocations went to firms who have membership in groups or otherwise directly pay (or have paid) Ben Stevens for "consulting" or other services. It sure looks like a circle of influence and bribery, but APOC ignores that.
Does APOC have some hidden guideline for when ongoing ill behavior can finally be worth calling chronic misreporting? In its childish and isolated mindset, does it have some Pixie dust that it plays with to make the evidence of blatant bribery simply disappear? How does APOC conveniently brush aside facts such as over $120,000 in stocks being given to Stevens - also unreported - by SEMCO, the energy company on whose board he sits? Will that, too, merely be a $150 ruler slap during APOC's next quarterly meeting?
No matter. As Metcalfe confidently said shortly after the fines were levied today, "This just gives us room to sue APOC for not doing more." And confident he should be, as Metcalfe has filed more complaints and is about ready to file a fifth complaint based on evidence obtained from court records earlier this week. How long can APOC keep up the "3 Monkeys" approach of "see no evil"?
Today's fines were apparently for failing to report his chairmanship of the AFMB in 2003, and for failing to report his ownership of an Option (known across Alaska as "a secret option") to buy 25% of Adak Fisheries for only $500,000, in the years 2004 through 2006 (the latter being for the calendar year 2005). Claiming technicalities due to changes in the law, today APOC let Stevens get away with not reporting the secret option in 2002 and 2003. We'll have to await a formal announcement of the fines to make sure this is exact, but you get the picture. However, to understand the gravity of the unreported option, you must understand that Stevens not only sat on the Senate Resource Committee, but also sponsored fisheries bills, and has received hundreds of thousands of dollars of fees for consulting or business services from fish companies, many of whom he helped grant federal funds to as chair of the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board.
And it was on November 16, 2004 that Stevens wrote a $50,000 check (number 115, Wells Fargo bank account) to exercise the option. In doing so, he attached a "NOTICE OF EXERCISE OF OPTION - CONFIDENTIAL" letter to Aleutian Spray Fisheries and Kjetil Solberg, the owners of Adak Fisheries, LLC. Therein, Stevens claimed that if they do not want to adhere to the option to own 25% of the company, then they should have to pay him "the value of my ownership interest" which "is therefore $1,625,000." So much for the arguments Ben made about how valueless that option was, when he faced APOC last December.
In the Confidential letter (obtained from APOC records, as filed on August 12, 2005) Stevens outlines his role. The second paragraph read: "As you know, the Option Agreement was entered into because the owners of Adak Fisheries, LLC were 'seeking to increase its value' and because they wanted to give me an incentive to use my 'skills to help increase the value of the Company.' Under the terms of the Option Agreement, I timely paid the required consideration for the Option. It should go without saying that I also thereafter greatly increased the value of Adak Fisheries, LLC through the strategy I developed and executed relating to pollock."
To readers aware of how Stevens' father, U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, then chairman of Appropriations, snuck a Rider into the 2004 Omnibus Spending Bill granting to Adak an allocation of pollock, and tied it to a requirement that Adak Fisheries, LLC construct a plant of over $50 million, that paragraph reeks of corruption. But if you have any doubt whatsoever about the intention to keep things "secret", check out this quote in a following paragraph by Stevens to the owners.
"Whether I complete the process of becoming an owner or you buy my interest for the price identified [$1,625,000 net], there are avenues available that are legal and that would negate or lessen the degree of public disclosure required with respect to my financial interest." Could you sit on the APOC board without grilling Stevens as to what he meant by that sentence?
You get the point. The Alaska Public Offices Commission is simply digging a deep hole for itself, $150 at a time. And with further complaints still on the books, and more to come, the best that can be said is that it appears to be a political game being played by appointees scared of their party leaders, but one that might turn out to be more like Chinese water torture by the time Metcalfe finishes with Stevens and APOC.
After all, Ben is re-running for his district senate seat in Anchorage. And Ray is filed as a Democrat running for the US House seat currently occupied by Don Young. APOC must deal with the remaining complaints, and also start to question whether or not it has just entered into the realm of influencing elections, itself.
We hope you watch the public news channels for more detailed reports, but that's the quick of it.
Stephen Taufen - Groundswell Fisheries Movement
A public watchdog and advocate for fishermen and their coastal communities. Taufen is an "insider" who blew the whistle on the international profit laundering between global affiliates of North Pacific seafood companies, who use illicit accounting to deny the USA the proper taxes on seafood trade. The same practices are used to lower ex-vessel prices to the fleets, and to bleed monies from our regional economy. Contact Stephen Taufen