As we reported
a couple of days ago, the federal investigation into a bribery scheme centering on one of Alaska's biggest oil services companies has crossed paths with Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK). And Stevens' problems seem to come down to some highly creative methods Stevens used to remodel his Alaska home.
According to contractor Augie Paone
, it all started when a group of unnamed "friends" got together to renovate the senator's house as a weekend project. The group of friends ended up being unable to pull it off. But in the groupâs defense, the job was pretty ambitious. The plan was to ratchet the one-story house off its foundation, build a new first floor and then place the old first floor on top of the new first floor. Unfortunately for the do-it-yourselfers, they ran into a few problems.
Thatâs when the local contractor, Paone, came into the picture. Paone has provided most of the sordid details in this story, since none of the other players are talking. According to Paone, it wasnât Stevens who sought him out to fix the mangled construction, but oil company Veco Corp. It's not clear how involved Veco had been in the do-it-yourself phase of the remodeling. But Paone says Veco was in charge when he came on board. Veco hired Paone and and collected and reviewed the $100,000 worth of invoices he submitted as the project progressed. Paone would then receive payments signed by Stevens -- checks which according to Paone appeared to come from a special account created for the renovation.
Paone says he didnât know Stevens before working on the house and dealt with Veco during the project. He told a local television station he doesnât think the arrangement raises any red flags.
"The senator doesn't know me, so some of the people I had contacts with were more familiar with the senator, so they kind of took over his interests and they kind of overviewed the billings. After they saw them, it was just faxed over to the senator and the senator a few days later just mailed me a check," Paone said.
Hereâs the straightforward arrangement: oil company decides to remodel senator's house, oil company finds contractor, contractor creates new first floor in senator's house, contractor sends invoices to oil company, oil company reviews bills, oil company faxes bills to senior senator, senior senator pulls cash from a special account set up specifically for the construction and pays contractor, senior senator never speaks to contractor.
The arrangement looks fairly questionable on its face. And it looks even more questionable when you take Veco's track record into account. The person from Veco who hired Paone was Veco CEO Bill Allen. Allen happens to have just pled guilty this month to federal conspiracy and bribery charges for âgiving things of valueâ to local lawmakers. In a court document accompanying his guilty plea, the Anchorage Daily News
noticed a seemingly irrelevant description of what the company did not do while he was in charge: "Veco was not in the business of residential construction or remodeling."
So far Stevens has refused to explain the arrangement. But it has piqued the FBIâs interest and investigators are looking into it. Paone says the FBI interviewed him about six months ago and that he testified before a grand jury in December.
In response to questions about the remodeling, Stevensâ spokesman sent me a statement saying the senator is not commenting.