FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents raided the Girdwood, Alaska, home of GOP Sen. Ted Stevens on Monday as part of a growing corruption probe that also has focused on GOP Rep. Don Young (Alaska).
The Girdwood home is the subject of controversy because it was remodeled with the assistance of officials from the embattled oil services company VECO Corp.
At the same time, the FBI and the Department of the Interior are investigating a series of earmarks pushed through Congress over the past several years by Stevens for an Alaska nonprofit tied to Trevor McCabe, a former Stevens aide and a business partner of his son, Ben, sources familiar with the investigation said.
According to the sources, the investigation is focused on how millions in federal funds earmarked for the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska, were used and how more than $500,000 made it to McCabe.
Marcia Blaszak, Alaska Regional Director for the National Park Service, declined to comment Monday on the specifics of the
multi-agency inquiry, citing the fact that it is an “ongoing federal investigation.” However, Blaszak did say staff from her office have been cooperating with investigators from DOI’s Office of Inspector General. “A number of our employees have been contacted” by DOI’s IG, Blaszak said.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the investigation.
At issue is a 2005 earmark for the SeaLife Center, a marine wildlife research center and tourist attraction. The center — which according to published reports has received more than $50 million in federal funding since it opened in 1998 and has long been a pet project of Stevens’— was given a $1.6 million earmark in 2005 to purchase an adjacent property that was owned at the time by McCabe.
Initially, McCabe had sought to sell the property to the NPS as part of a massive office construction project the service had planned for Seward. But negotiations for the building collapsed in 2005, according to an April 2006 story by the Anchorage Daily News.
The shift in funding turned out to be controversial in the small community. Former City Manager Clark Corbridge warned in a letter to the center in 2006 that the city should be allowed to approve the purchase so as to avoid “future problems and possible allegations of impropriety,” according to the Daily News article. Corbridge did not return calls for comment.
The center went forward with the plan and purchased the property from McCabe’s company, the Centennial Group, for $558,000.
Additionally, at the time McCabe was a business partner with Stevens’ son, Ben, in a consulting firm that has come under scrutiny from federal investigators in a separate investigation.
During the time of the sale, McCabe also had reached a separate agreement with the center to operate boat tours for the facility through Alaska Outfitters, a second company owned by Stevens.
According to sources close to the investigation, federal investigators have focused on how the decision to purchase the property was made, as well as other potentially problematic earmarks in the past. These sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that in addition to the interviews with NPS employees, investigators also have interviewed a number of other individuals connected to the center and the sale.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.