Bearded and rosy-cheeked Republican representative Don Young is the sole House member from our snowbound 49th state, the true architect of the "bridge to nowhere," and the possible subject of an FBI investigation. At least that's what watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington believes, having reviewed a trove of Young-related FBI documents released yesterday under the Freedom of Information Act. Their proof: the agency held back certain documents that it claims relate to an ongoing law enforcement investigation. Young's D.C.-based lawyer, John Dowd, immediately struck back.
CREW is some of the most reckless people I have ever seen. They are just trying to smear him, hurt an old man. He did everything right, he cooperated with everyone, there is no case there.
Dowd was referring to the closed-out 2008 bribery inquiry into the pork-heavy $286 billion transportation bill of 2005 — passed while Young was chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee — that included the "bridge to nowhere," along with a last-minute pet project dear to one Young donor's heart.
What sparked the interest of Congress (and the FBI) was $10 million for the Coconut Road interchange in Florida, an earmark that benefited a Michigan real estate developer and major donor to Young's campaigns, that was hustled into the bill after it had already passed. Though investigators ultimately concluded there was insufficient evidence to charge Young over the interchange fiasco, they did follow up on allegations that Young and his wife (now deceased) had used campaign funds as a private piggy bank.
According to documents examined by the Times, a former aide, who spoke with federal investigators in April of 2008, accused the couple of charging his campaigns for hunting trips, meals, and even chartered flights to and construction work on their home in Fort Yukon, though no campaign or fund-raising events were ever held there. "A common topic of discussion" among campaign workers was the inappropriate expenses submitted by Young's wife, Lu, who died in 2009, while the investigation was still ongoing.
Mrs. Young insisted that the campaign reimburse the couple for meals with friends or family and other expenses. [She] has a sense of entitlement about most things and can be very mean when she doesn’t get her way. The Youngs don’t think they should have to pay for anything when they are in Alaska, including dinner, laundry and dry cleaning.
This wouldn't be the first criminal investigation into campaign impropriety by Representative Young. In 2006, he and then-Alaska senator Ted Stevens were implicated in a bribery scandal involving VECO, an oil company, that had donated over $200,000 to Young's campaign and spent a similar amount bankrolling Young's annual pig roasts. He'd accepted and failed to report golf clubs worth $1,000 from VECO CEO Bill Allen, who later pled guilty to bribery charges and was sentenced to 21 months in prison. Senator Stevens was also convicted on seven corruption charges relating to the case, although the charges were later dropped after it surfaced that government prosecutors had withheld evidence. (One of the Justice Department officials involved in the botched case later killed himself just weeks after Stevens himself died in a plane crash.) As for Young, he was never officially charged with anything.
But since the Justice Department and the FBI neither deny nor confirm the existence of ongoing investigations, we may have to wait until a beefed-up FIA pries the remaining files from the feds' tightly-balled fists to know whether Young is still on the hook.