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Will Stevens dismissal undercut Alaska's corruption probe?

ANCHORAGE — The government's sudden move Wednesday to drop its case against former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens set questions swirling about whether the taint over the Stevens case threatens any of the other convictions in Alaska's broad public corruption saga.

A dozen people have been charged since December 2006 and 11 have been convicted. Minus Stevens, the conviction count drops to 10.

The official word from the FBI Wednesday: The investigation into Alaska public corruption remains active.

Still, as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder noted Wednesday, the actions of the prosecution team that gained the Stevens conviction also are under investigation -- by the U.S. Justice Department.

Defense lawyers for others caught up in the corruption investigation say they want to see what the inquiry turns up.

"To accurately forecast the impact that the Ted Stevens dismissal will have upon other cases, not yet indicted, we need to have a better understanding of what the Office of Professional Responsibility finds about the integrity of the investigative process," said John Wolfe, a Seattle lawyer who represents former Alaska Senate President Ben Stevens.

Ben Stevens' legislative office was one of six raided by the FBI in August 2006 when the corruption investigation first burst into public view. The son of Ted Stevens, Ben was a paid consultant for oil field services company Veco Corp. at the same time he was a legislator. Records show Veco paid him $252,000 from 2001 through 2005. He hasn't been charged in the corruption investigation.

"Ben Stevens is as adamant today as he has been that he's innocent of any wrongdoing and believes that this may represent a turning point in the department's thinking about this case," Wolfe said Wednesday.

Efforts Wednesday to reach lawyers for former state Reps. Pete Kott and Vic Kohring, who are in prison and appealing their corruption convictions, were unsuccessful. But the defense lawyers have said in the past they were monitoring the turmoil in the Stevens case.

Stevens' case unraveled quickly after a new team of federal prosecutors began reviewing the evidence. They discovered that what a chief witness initially told the government didn't match his testimony at trial on one key point -- and defense lawyers were never told of the discrepancy. That was just the latest revelation of problems in the case.

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