Late last year, Alaskan real estate developer Bob Penney testified before a grand jury about his cozy relationship with Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK). But it looks like Penney also has financial ties with Alaskaâs other senator: Lisa Murkowski (R). At around the same time, she quietly bought a prime piece of property along the bank of the Kenai River from Penney.
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Because of Alaskaâs weak records requirements, itâs unclear whether Murkowski got a special deal from Penney. The market value of the 1.27 acre plot is worth around $300,000, according to Kenai real estate agents and locals. Both Penney and Murkowski's office refused to reveal what Murkowski paid.
The arrangement alarms some watchdogs who see ethical and even legal issues stemming from the deal. Ryan Alexander, the director of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said that Penney's history makes it look like he deliberately does business with Alaska politicians with an eye for future gain.
"It raises more than question, it raises concern," said Alexander. "It puts [Murkowski] into that web of folks that has raised eyebrows."
The only available information on Penneyâs sale price (land transaction prices are not public record in Alaska) is a Deed of Trust, available here, that shows that Murkowski purchased the riverfront plot in late December of last year with a mortgage of $136,000. A borough assessment values the property at $214,000 â but real estate agents said that is well below what Penney could have fetched. Based on a review of Murkowski's disclosure records, it's unclear if she had enough cash on hand to handle such a large down payment.
Thanks to a TPMMuckraker reader in Soldotna who photographed the area where the wooded plot sits, we can catch a glimpse of the view. The photos are up here.
The land is near Penney's lodge where he co-hosts the annual Kenai River Classic with Stevens. The event draws politicians and heavyweight defense executives from companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing for a weekend of fundraising -- and reveling. The invitational is tagged as a charity event meant to raise money for salmon habitat preservation, but it's been criticized as a meet-up for influence peddling.
The longtime friends, Penney and Stevens, are also business partners. Penney brought Stevens in on a Utah land deal that turned a $15,000 investment into $100,000 for the senator. And the two own stakes in the same racehorse with former Veco executive Bill Allen, who recently pleaded guilty to federal bribery and conspiracy charges in a cash-for-votes scheme involving state lawmakers.
Around the same time Penney sold Murkowski the riverfront property, he testified before a grand jury investigating Stevens in the broad federal probe into political corruption in the state.