A federal grand jury in Alaska has subpoenaed documents from at least two large Washington-based seafood processors and a seafood association as part of a corruption investigation, according to industry sources and others with direct knowledge of the subpoenas.
Companies that received subpoenas include Trident Seafoods and Icicle Seafoods, two of the biggest Seattle-based seafood companies.
At-Sea Processors Association, which represents companies that harvest and process pollock, also received a subpoena, according to three industry sources who all requested anonymity.
The seafood-industry subpoenas reflect a new line of inquiry in a federal investigation that initially appeared to focus on the relationships between Alaska politicians and Veco, an Alaska-based contractor that works closely with the oil industry.
The subpoenas request any records that detail financial ties to outgoing Alaska state Senate President Ben Stevens, who in recent years has also worked as a business consultant for the Pacific Northwest seafood industry. They also request any details of financial relationships with the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, which Ben Stevens once chaired, and his father, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, who helped secure federal funding for the board.
Additionally, the subpoenas requested information about seafood-industry financial dealings with Trevor McCabe, a former fishery aide to Sen. Ted Stevens. McCabe has done consulting and federal lobbying on behalf of the fishing industry, according to federal records.
McCabe also served on the marketing board with Ben Stevens. The subpoenas were issued to seafood companies by federal agents who arrived in Seattle in November.
"They [the subpoenas] came down in a blitzkrieg," said a source familiar with the investigation.
The grand jury examining evidence is in Alaska.
But the investigation also involves attorneys from the U.S. Justice Department's Public Integrity Section, which handles political-corruption cases, according to Bryan Sierra, a Justice Department spokesman.
The grand jury is a panel of citizens who hear evidence presented by federal prosecutors and decide whether to issue indictments. In many cases, not all the evidence gathered through subpoenas is presented to the grand jury.
Industry officials who work for some of the seafood companies that received subpoenas said that payments to Ben Stevens were proper and unrelated to his work on the marketing board. Citing the sensitivity of the grand-jury proceedings, they requested anonymity.
Both Ben Stevens and Ted Stevens have declined to comment on the federal investigation.
In an earlier e-mail to The Seattle Times, Ted Stevens said, "I understand the public's interest in the investigation. It has always been my practice to not comment on such matters to avoid even the appearance that I might influence the investigation. This is especially important in this case where records have been obtained from a number of legislators, including my son Ben."
McCabe could not be reached Thursday for comment.
The federal investigation became public in August after the FBI searched the offices of Ben Stevens and at least five other Alaska legislators. Agents gathered documents relating to Veco, which had been heavily involved in lobbying the Alaska Legislature on oil-tax policies and other issues.
On Sept. 18, FBI agents returned to Ben Stevens' office, taking away documents that included two letters that Stevens had written to the U.S. Commerce Department about the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, according to a letter outlining the search that Stevens provided to the Anchorage Daily News.
Sen. Ted Stevens crafted legislation that created the board in 2003 at a time when the wild-salmon industry faced tough competition from farmed fish. Financed by federal tax dollars collected on seafood imports, the board makes grants to help companies develop and market their seafood products.
Ben Stevens became the board's first chairman, a volunteer position he held until earlier this year. As chairman, he helped approve more than $12 million in grants to dozens of seafood companies in 2004 and 2005.
Some of the money was awarded on the basis of how much salmon a company processed, with Puget Sound companies receiving some of the biggest grants. Icicle Seafoods, for example, received $1.55 million and Trident Seafoods received more than $1.3 million.
Some of these companies also paid Ben Stevens as a consultant either directly, through related companies or through industry groups such as the North Pacific Crab Association. Those payments totaled more than $250,000 during the years Stevens was on the board.
Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Seattle Times reporters Steve Miletich and David Heath contributed
to this report.