JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Thursday she's pressing for an answer on why federal prosecutors stopped pursuing a teen sex crime case against former Veco Corp. chairman Bill Allen and refused to let state prosecutors take on the task.
"We have not yet dropped this issue and I will not drop this issue," Murkowski said after her annual speech to the Alaska Legislature.
Allen was the star witness for federal prosecutors in three Alaska political corruption cases, testifying against two state representatives and former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens in what was ultimately a flawed and failed prosecution. Allen pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy and served almost two years in federal prison and a halfway house.
Murkowski also assured state lawmakers that she was working on legislation to address the prosecutorial failings in the Stevens case.
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Her proposal, still being drafted, will require federal prosecutors to turn over evidence that could help a defendant. Court rulings already require that, but it's not in federal law.
Stevens' conviction was thrown out in 2009 because of prosecutorial misconduct, but by then he already lost his Senate seat. Among other mistakes, prosecutors withheld information from defense lawyers about the teen-sex abuse allegations against Allen that could have discredited him before a jury.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder assured Murkowski at a congressional hearing last March that the sex crimes investigation wasn't set aside in exchange for Allen's cooperation in the corruption cases.
"If a case could be made, a case would be brought," Holder testified.
Murkowski began to question that after Justice Department officials indicated to a state prosecutor that the fact Allen had been convicted and sentenced on another matter played a role.
In January, the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility announced it would investigate why the case was dropped. Murkowski is awaiting the results, and also plans to continue to press Holder, she said Thursday.
"What I have not been able to get out of anyone including the attorney general was why they shut that door," Murkowski said.
It's an important issue considering Alaska's high rates of domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault, the senator said.
"The message that came from that is that if you are a wealthy enough guy with enough political influence out there and you engage in an illegal and really just heinous activity with minors -- with young women and unfortunately very vulnerable young women -- that you can get away with it," Murkowski told reporters.
Anchorage police had worked with a federal prosecutor investigating charges that Allen had violated the federal Mann Act, which forbids transporting a minor across state lines for "immoral and exploitative purposes."
Among Allen's accusers is a woman who first met him when she was a 15-year-old prostitute in Spenard. But police could only corroborate involvement after she was 16, which is generally the age of consent under state law. Police tried to make a federal case, but the Justice Department refused, and wouldn't let state prosecutors take it on either.
Murkowski said she's demanding an answer. What a bad message for Alaska's young women, she said.
"If you are violated and it's by somebody who has wealth and power, don't bother pursuing it, because the system is not going to be there for you," she said. "That's wrong, and we should not allow it to stand."
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, covered a number of energy topics on Thursday during her annual address to the state Legislature and question-and-answer sessions that followed. Here are some highlights:
Abandoned wells. The U.S. Navy and the U.S. Geological Survey decades ago drilled dozens of wells on federal land in Alaska, then abandoned them. State Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, wanted to know what the state Legislature could to force a speedy cleanup.
"Let's raise hell," Murkowski answered. "This is just wrong."She said she got an estimate of $40 million to $50 million --"chump change" -- to plug and properly clean up the 37 most dangerous of the wells. She said she plans to discuss it Friday with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and let him know legislators are "ticked off."
The prospect of an Alaska natural gas pipeline. Legislators, frustrated by the slow pace of an effort to build a big pipeline and export Alaska gas, are putting out proposals for smaller gaslines that would serve Alaskans.
Asked about that, Murkowski said the state's failure to "coalesce" around a single project is hurting its long-time dream for a gas pipeline.
"Quite honestly, I think that's been part of our problem. We haven't come together as a Legislature, as an administration, as a state, working with those that are going to make this happen, to say 'this is the plan,' " Murkowski said.
The possibility of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development. The U.S. House, for the 12th time, approved a measure to open ANWER last week. Murkowski acknowledged the job in the Senate is much harder but said the cause is not lost. Volatility in Iran, for instance, may improve the chances of drilling in the refuge, she said. She's planning a trip to the refuge this summer with a group from Congress.
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