Erika Bolstad and Richard Mauer report on the ongoing investigations into Senator Stevens (Stevens probe is expanding , August 1) for the Anchorage Daily News:
An ever-widening federal corruption probe into Alaska politics has zeroed in on a land sale involving the SeaLife Center in Seward and a former aide to U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.
Federal investigators are looking into earmarks that the state's senior senator steered to the research and tourist attraction near Seward's waterfront.
They are specifically focusing on a $1.6 million Stevens-driven allocation to the SeaLife Center, which spent $558,000 of the money to buy a lot owned by lobbyist and former Stevens aide Trevor McCabe last year.
Investigators with the Inspector General's office of the U.S. Interior Department have spoken to National Park Service employees in Alaska about the purchase, said Marcia Blaszak, the Alaska regional director for the Park Service. Originally, parks officials wanted McCabe's lot for a visitor center, but balked at his asking price.
Blaszak said it's "an ongoing investigation and I'm not discussing the particulars" of what investigators were in search of. But she did say it was connected to the SeaLife Center purchase, and that local Park Service employees were cooperating with the investigation.
McCabe, who worked for Stevens from 1991 to 1999, did not return a phone message left at his Anchorage law office. His lawyer also did not return a message left with his assistant.
Stevens has long been a benefactor of the SeaLife Center, sending more than $50 million in federal money to the private nonprofit since it opened in 1998....
McCabe, a Seward native who is now a high-profile fishing lobbyist, was looking for a buyer for the Arcade Building, a rundown waterfront property that had housed a pawn shop. McCabe bought the Arcade in 2003, when the National Park Service was looking for downtown land to build a new $20 million visitor center. Kenai Fjords National Park is nearby.
The federal government eventually bought several other parcels, including a second one McCabe owned. But negotiations reached a dead end in July 2005 after the government balked at McCabe's asking price.
A month later, Stevens used his power over congressional appropriations to transfer all $1.6 million left in the visitor center's land-purchase fund to the SeaLife Center. The move surprised officials with the city of Seward, which had been slated to receive the money.
The SeaLife Center then agreed to spend $558,000 of the federal windfall to buy the Arcade building from McCabe and his partner, Dale Lindsey, a Seward businessman.
At the time, Stevens' office and the SeaLife Center said the money was diverted and spent to help the marine facility as well as to revitalize downtown Seward. They said it was not to bail out McCabe.
But the transaction opened a rift between the SeaLife Center and city administrators. City officials did not return calls Tuesday.
At the time, the city manager wrote the SeaLife Center, saying city approval of such purchases was necessary "to avoid future problems and possible allegations of impropriety." He never said publicly what he meant by "impropriety" and refused to be interviewed at the time of the original Daily News report....