Politics & Government

FBI's Florida investigation of Alaska Rep. Young and Lee County interchange outlined in document list

The Justice Department revealed descriptions of hundreds of documents Monday night that it had prepared in its investigation of Rep. Don Young and the infamous Coconut Road interchange, including what it said was a "potential witness list and indictment."

The document lists were filed in response to a judge's order in a freedom of information lawsuit brought in Washington, D.C., by a public interest watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

The lists are court-ordered indexes that contain only a brief description of the document contents, not the documents themselves, so it's impossible to tell how far the investigation went and whether the referenced indictment was a draft that named Young.

The documents refer to numerous FBI interviews, including some with "confidential sources." Several contain trial strategies and other memos sent among attorneys of the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section and to the U.S. Attorney's office in Tampa.

Two documents, dated June 27, 2007, appear to reference the opening of a case file. One is from the Tampa field office of the FBI to "Anchorage Division" with the subject line: "To advise receiving offices of new public corruption matter."

The second is a memo: "Subject: Donald Erwin Young, United States Congressman -- Alaska; Corruption of Fed. Pub. Officials -- Legislative Branch."

The indexes also reference $110,000 in checks dating back to 2000 that were written by companies associated with the Michigan developer who sought the Coconut Road interchange, Daniel Aronoff, including checks written by Agripartners and the Landon Group.

Young reported raising $40,000 at an Aronoff fund-raiser that preceded the interchange earmark.

The indexes, filed Monday just before midnight Eastern time in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., are lists of documents what would be responsive to CREW's public records request but were being withheld under exemptions to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

For instance, the Justice Department said it was withholding the potential witness list and indictment as "an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

But the indexes also give CREW the opportunity to challenge the use of an exemption and ask the judge to overrule it.

Young, R-Alaska, had been under investigation by the FBI from around 2006 to 2010 in the same public corruption case that led to U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens' indictment and guilty verdicts for lying on his financial disclosure reports. Young, like Stevens and several Alaska legislators, was investigated for his connections to the disgraced oil-field service contractor, Bill Allen, and his Veco Corp.

In 2008, Congress discovered that Young or someone from his office had changed his 2005 transportation bill after it passed Congress. The edited version of the bill funded start-up work on an interchange in Florida sought by a contributor to Young. Congress asked the FBI to investigate the circumstances.

Then in August 2010, Young said his lawyer heard from the Justice Department that it had closed its investigations without seeking his indictment, a year and a half after charges against Stevens were dropped due to prosecutorial misconduct.

Neither Young nor the Justice Department would comment further.

In January 2011, CREW filed a freedom of information request for the Justice Department's files in both the Veco and Coconut Road cases. It argued that the usual privacy protections that would prevent disclosure of a closed investigation of a private citizen shouldn't apply to Young because he was an elected official and his actions should be open to scrutiny.

Release of the documents would also allow the public to evaluate the Justice Department's conduct in the investigation, including its decision to close the cases without charging Young, CREW said.

The Justice Department replied that it didn't have to turn over anything.

CREW sued to force disclosure.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler rejected the government's request to dismiss the case. Instead, in January she ordered the department to produce an index of documents "relating to DoJ investigations of U.S. Representative Don Young involving allegations of bribery and other illegal conduct." The Justice Department wanted the index limited to just the Coconut Road matter. CREW also wanted the Veco material, but Kessler ruled against it.

The indexes disclose that material from the Coconut Road investigation was found in at least eight boxes in the Public Integrity Section and three boxes in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Anchorage.

Some of the documents are already public records and can be released, the Justice Department said, such as a series of local planning documents in Lee County, Fla., where Coconut Road intersects Interstate 75.

But they also include attorney "talking points" on the Coconut Road case. The talking points grew from three to four pages over the course of the investigation, the indexes show.

There also was a seven-page witness list and a 20-page document titled "Lobbyists Associated with Rep. Don Young and Staff -- Timeline." There's another 11-page timeline that runs from 2004 to Aug. 17, 2007. Investigators also obtained Young's bill at a Hyatt Hotel.

The final documents in the index are an Aug. 17, 2010, letter from Jack Smith, the chief of the Public Integrity Section, to the chief counsel of the House Ethics Committee, and an Aug. 30, 2010, letter closing the case.

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