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Alaska state senator returned consulting fee
Anchorage Daily News


November 03, 2005

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Two months after collecting $145,000 in consulting fees from Cook Inlet Region Inc. in 2002, state Sen. Ben Stevens quietly returned the money, acknowledging he didn't fulfill the requirements of the job, according to CIRI chief executive Margie Brown.

Brown, responding to recent inquiries by two dissident board members and the Daily News, said Stevens "indicated he wasn't satisfied, returned the money and paid us interest on it."

Brown's disclosures come as public scrutiny has focused on outside consulting work that has paid Stevens more than $1.1 million since 2001, the year he was appointed to a vacant Senate seat. Among those jobs, all reported by Stevens in his legislative financial disclosures, were the payments from CIRI. While Alaska media and the Los Angeles Times reported on Stevens' CIRI work, the fact that one year's payment was returned came as news.

Many of the companies paying Stevens, including CIRI, have business with the state or have benefited from the actions in Congress of his father, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, or both. The L.A. Times story, published in July 2003, used Ben Stevens as an example among several senators' sons and spouses who collected big payments from companies seeking benefits from Congress.

Brown said Stevens' work for CIRI was not directly involved in legislative or regulatory issues.

"He was pursuing, essentially, a business opportunity in bulk water transportation and water bottling," Brown said.

She said she was unwilling to describe the work in detail, partly because she only learned of it from reading a file - the contract was issued by a previous CIRI head, Carl Marrs - and partly because CIRI may someday want to pursue the opportunity and would not want to help potential competitors. She would not allow a reporter to view Stevens' work product.

Stevens began the work in 2001, she said. He was paid $72,920, as he reported to the Alaska Public Offices Commission, and adequately completed the first phase of his assignment, she said.

But after accepting payments through 2002 totaling $145,854, Brown said, Stevens acknowledged he couldn't deliver. His check included interest "of a couple thousand bucks," Brown said. The check to CIRI was dated March 6, 2003.

Eleven days later, Stevens filed his official disclosure for 2002 to the public offices commission. It declared the $145,854 as "consulting/professional services," but didn't note the returned money, either as an addendum to the payment or as a debt he owed CIRI. In an interview last week, Stevens said he didn't have to.

"Is there anything in there that says anybody has billed somebody for something and they got to issue a refund, are you supposed to report that?" he said.

Christina Ellingson, executive director of the Public Offices Commission, said she didn't believe the law required Stevens to disclose the refund.

Brown said the files weren't clear about whether Stevens returned the money on his own initiative or whether someone in CIRI had expressed dissatisfaction with his work.

"I actually feel that CIRI has a very straight story here, and Ben appears to act appropriately when he determined that he wasn't going to be able to deliver a product that satisfied him. He did the right thing, returned the money, paid us interest. We got enough worth for four first payments, got some value out of it," Brown said.

Marrs said he didn't remember details of the arrangement with Stevens, but recalled: "He did what we asked him to do."

Through 2002, Stevens submitted invoices and was paid, Marrs said. "He just got overbusy and we sort of dropped the ball on the project anyway. It didn't look like it was going to pan out."

Stevens declined to discuss his CIRI business.

"Proprietary information, what I was doing for them. It's none of your business," he said. "And that's the end of the story. Nothing else to say."

Later in the conversation, he added: "It was a contract that was begun before I was ever a legislator, a relationship that began, it was a business arrangement and it's none of your damn business. I reported it on my APOC statement. End of story."

The two CIRI board members who requested the information, Bob Rude and Harold Rudolph, said they weren't satisfied.

"Me and Harold asked to see the paperwork on it," Rude said. The documents weren't available when Brown explained the matter at a board meeting Oct. 19, but Rude said he hoped to view them soon.

Ben Stevens and Ted Stevens say the consultancies have nothing to do with government. But Ben Stevens' business relationship with the oil field service company Veco, which has paid him $243,000 since 2000, was cited as an example of "corruption" in the recall petition brought against Stevens by Republican Moderate Party founder Ray Metcalfe.

Metcalfe is appealing a decision by the state elections office that threw out the recall petition for failing to state legal grounds to remove Stevens from office.

Metcalfe has demanded that Stevens show the reports he has done for the Veco money to prove that he is not just selling influence. Stevens has said he owes no such public obligation.

Recent news reports have also focused on Ben Stevens' relationship to Adak Fisheries, a company that paid him $280,000 in consulting fees from 2002 to 2004. The company received an allocation of pollock worth millions of dollars through special congressional action by his father. In 2002, the two owners of Adak Fisheries also granted Ben Stevens a secret option for him to purchase 25 percent of the company.

Stevens has declined to say what he did for that money. His resistance to public exposure of his work extends to the court fight in Anchorage over the ownership of Adak Fisheries, in which he's a defendant.

That case is in the pretrial discovery phase, where the sides are required to provide each other with information. The plaintiff, Aleutian Spray Fisheries of Seattle, demanded in August that Stevens provide a detailed statement showing what he did for each payment from Adak Fisheries, along with documents relating to his services and tax returns. It also sought a complete explanation for his receipt of the option in the company.

On Oct. 12, Stevens' attorneys asked the judge in the case to throw out those questions because they were overly broad and asked for personal, confidential information. If the judge requires him to answer, Stevens asked that the judge order the other parties in the case to keep the information secret.

"The information that Aleutian Spray seeks is among the most proprietary and sensitive commercial information it could ask for," Stevens' attorneys wrote. "It is information regarding how Mr. Stevens does his business and exactly how he charges for it. That information, if disclosed, would provide competitive advantage to anyone in Mr. Stevens' field."

Five days after Stevens filed his objections, the matter was likely rendered moot when Aleutian Spray sold its interest in Adak Fisheries to its partner, Kjetil Solberg.


Distributed by Scripps-McClatchy Western Service,

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