Monday, June 04, 2012

CREW Synopsis of DOJ Documents on Don Young

This posts builds from Cliff Groh's post at Alaska Political Corruption that cites Charlie Savage's New York Times' May 31 article about the Public Integrity Section's (PIN) checkered record of late. PIN's the Justice Department branch that prosecuted the Alaska corruption cases, including the Stevens case, and the John Edward's case, but dropped their case against Don Young. It also includes links to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington's (CREW) report on the documents it got through Freedom of Information Act requests from DOJ regarding Don Young.

First, here are the excerpts from the Charlie Savage article that mention Young:
The two failed cases were the most nationally visible efforts in recent years by the public integrity section, which was criticized in 2010 after closing out, without bringing charges, a series of long-running investigations into current or former members of Congress including Senator John Ensign of Nevada and Representatives Tom DeLay of Texas, Jerry Lewis of California, Allan B. Mollohan of West Virginia and Don Young of Alaska. . .
“The cases that they are deciding to prosecute, and not prosecute, reflect an incoherent strategy,” she said. “At some points they are willing to be incredibly aggressive, like with John Edwards, and on the other hand they are overly cautious in refusing to prosecute people like John Ensign and Don Young.” 
. . . Mr. Smith, seeking a fresh start for the unit, urged prosecutors to file charges or close cases in which investigations had lingered. The wave of closed cases — including the decision in August 2010 not to charge Mr. Young, another Alaska Republican — led critics to accuse the section of being gun-shy. . . 
The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington later sued the Justice Department to obtain documents related to the Young investigation. This spring, it obtained a draft indictment showing that investigators considered charging him with so-called honest services fraud for accepting and expecting a stream of trips, meals, golf outings and other items of value from lobbyists in exchange for official actions like meetings, letters and legislation. 
Savage goes on to say that  "honest services fraud" had been greatly limited by the Supreme Court in Enron's Jeff Skilling case and that Congress hadn't taken action to  restore its scope. 

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has a synopsis (which Alaska Political Corruption links) of what the PIN investigation of Young produced.   Here are some excerpts of their findings. [I've left in the footnotes]
Over the course of three years, the FBI, with assistance from U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, interviewed dozens of witnesses and amassed a wealth of evidence concerning not only Rep. Young’s role in the Coconut Road earmark, but his misuse of campaign funds to finance personal expenses of both himself and his wife Lu Young. The two used Rep. Young’s campaign account as a personal piggy bank they reached into to cover such things as personal travel home to Alaska,2 restaurants unrelated to campaign activities, and laundry and dry cleaning.3    According to at least one witness, Rep. Young treated any travel to Alaska as campaign related, regardless of its purpose.4    Both he and his wife routinely obtained $300 cash advances for their trips to Anchorage to cover tips and incidental expenses, a practice eventually stopped on the advice of counsel.5    One witness described cash left for Rep. Young either in his hotel room or his condominium.6    Lu Young also sought reimbursement from campaign funds
[1 Young Document 2 (references are to the bates numbers on the documents produced by the FBI).  2 See, e.g., Young Document 192. 3 Young Document 193. 4 Young Document 194. 5 Young Document 195.   6 Id. ]
for additional expenses incurred during trips to Alaska, such as lunches with friends.7    In addition, Rep. Young kept a sports utility vehicle parked in the congressional garage for which he sought monthly reimbursement from campaign funds for mileage, even though the vehicle apparently never left the garage.8
Witnesses interviewed by the FBI paint a fairly negative picture of Rep. Young’s wife Lu, who perceived herself to be “the elected official,” but also acted as a kind of office manager, screening people who came into Rep. Young’s office.9    Described as having “a sense of entitlement about most things,” she submitted many of her personal expenses for reimbursement from campaign funds, including meals with friends and family.10    This practice apparently stopped at some point after years of abuse on the advice of counsel.11    Another witness told the FBI Lu Young received “countless bracelets and ivory while in the DC office,” as well as diamond earrings during a Las Vegas trip,12 while another described Rep. Young and his wife as the recipients of lavish gifts.13
Travel to the Youngs’ two houses in Fort Yukon, Alaska, was covered in large part by campaign funds. The campaign typically paid half of the cost of a charter flight to Fort Yukon, with the congressional office picking up the rest of the cost, which it attributed to Lu Young.14    In some instances, however, the campaign paid for the entire cost of the chartered flight.15    The Youngs also used these flights to transport building supplies.16    Even though these trips were paid for with campaign funds, no campaign events ever took place in Fort Yukon.17
On multiple occasions, Rep. Young went on hunting trips to various hunting resorts in New
[7 Id. 8 See id. 9 Young Document 193. 10 Young Document 194. 11 Young Document 193. 12 Young Document 198. 13 Young Document 250. 14 Young Document 196. 15 Id. 16 Id. 17 Id.]
York, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Montana paid for with campaign funds.18    In some instances, these trips coincided with campaign trips, but the hunting trips themselves were not campaign events.19    In at least one instance, a planned fund raising event was never held, but the hunting trip still went forward.20
Rep. Young failed to disclose these hunting trips on his annual financial disclosure forms. On August 17, 2010, DOJ’s Public Integrity Section referred this matter to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct on August 17, 2010, for possible violations of the Ethics in Government Act.21    Apparently the House Ethics Committee already had commenced its own investigation, as the referral memo references the fact Rep. Young, through counsel, had previously provided the documentation regarding these trips to the committee.22
 The whole document is here.  

This four page synopsis appears to be based on the documents CREW received through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.  You can see the requests and Department of Justice (DOJ) responses here.  First are the requests.  The responses are at the bottom of page one and top of page two.

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