Bill J. Allen, Alaska businessman at center of scandal, dies at 85

Bill J. Allen, a traveling pipe fitter who became one of the most powerful men in Alaska and a dominant figure in the state’s oil industry, later fell from grace in a spectacular bribery and corruption scheme that also ended with a US senator, died June 29. He was 85 years old.

His death was announced by Callahan-Edfast Mortuary & Crematory, a funeral home in Grand Junction, Colorado, where he lived. A funeral home representative confirmed his death but declined to say where he died or cite a cause.

As president and CEO of the Veco Corporation, an engineering and services company he co-founded in 1968, Mr. Allen sat at the intersection of Alaska’s vast oil industry and the equally vast political interests arrayed around it.

He specialized in oiling the connections between the two, mixing money into the coffers of friendly politicians, who in turn kept companies like Veco full of work. By the early 2000s, Veco was the largest Alaskan-owned and Alaska-based company, with 3,500 employees, 18 subsidiaries, and $400 million in annual revenue.

Mr. Allen, a high school dropout in New Mexico, enjoyed a reputation as something of a cowboy; brash and boastful, he almost openly distributed his financial largesse to shape state policy. He was fined $28,000 in 1985 for surreptitiously collecting money from Veco employees and passing it on to various pro-oil political candidates.

Eventually he and one of his vice presidents, Rick Smith, struck an almost comically corrupt deal with a group of state politicians.

They regularly booked a suite at the Westmark Baranof, a luxurious Art Deco hotel four blocks from the State Capitol in Juneau, where they doled out money and told visitors what they wanted in return.

Mr. Allen and his circle seemed to revel in his shamelessness. He and Mr. Smith always booked Suite 604, and Mr. Allen always sat in the same chair. He bragged that he kept $100 bills in his front pocket, so it would be easier to hand them out to friendly politicians. One politician’s girlfriend even had hats embroidered with the letters CBC, for “Corrupt Bastards Club.”

But Mr. Allen’s consistency proved his undoing. Federal agents learned of the arrangement and placed a pinhole camera on the wall opposite his favorite chair. After logging hours and hours of illicit activity, they confronted Mr. Allen and Mr. Smith in August 2006. Mr. Allen agreed to cooperate that same day.

You may have felt extra pressure to play ball. As early as 2004, law enforcement officials had been investigating multiple allegations that Mr. Allen had sexually assaulted underage girls.

He pleaded guilty to corruption and bribery charges and, in exchange for his cooperation, was sentenced to three years in prison and fined $750,000. The federal government dropped the sexual assault investigation, although the Justice Department denied that his decision to do so was part of the deal.

Mr. Allen became the government’s key witness in a series of corruption and bribery cases against state and federal politicians, several of whom were convicted.

The most prominent of them, Senator Ted Stevens, was indicted in 2008 on charges of failing to record a number of gifts from Mr. Allen, most notably an extensive renovation of the senator’s home south of Anchorage.

The two had been friends, even had a racehorse together, but that didn’t stop Mr. Allen from providing critical testimony against the senator, telling the jury that Mr. Stevens had used an intermediary to ask him not to send a bill. for the renewal

Three months after that, an FBI whistleblower claimed that prosecutors had withheld evidence from Stevens’s defense attorneys, including an interview in which Allen said he had never spoken to Stevens’ intermediary. The Justice Department asked the judge to drop the indictment, which he promptly did. (Mr. Stevens had not yet been sentenced.)

Mr. Stevens died in a plane crash in 2010.

William James Allen was born on April 6, 1937, in Socorro, NM, the son of Roger and Lola Allen. His father was a pipe fitter who at one point during the Great Depression was employed by the Works Progress Administration, the New Deal agency that built public infrastructure.

He is survived by his daughters, Tammy Kerrigan and Shannon West; his son, Mark Allen; at least nine grandchildren; and at least two great-grandchildren. More information about the survivors was not immediately available.

He dropped out of high school at age 15 to work in the New Mexico oil industry, first as a welder and then as a pipe fitter. He moved and ended up in California before heading to Alaska around 1967.

His timing was perfect. A few months after his arrival, the largest oil field in North America was discovered near Prudhoe Bay on Alaska’s North Slope. The industry exploded with activity, and oil companies suddenly needed specialized services (equipment, logistics, repairs) to speed up their operations.

Mr. Allen and a friend, Wayne Veltri, founded a service team they called the Veltri Company, later shortened to Veco. Allen purchased Veltri’s shares in 1970.

Although it started out small, with just four employees, the company grew rapidly thanks to the Alaskan oil boom. By the late 1970s, Veco had expanded into gold mining, drilling, and even shipbuilding. But a drop in revenue from the oil industry in the early 1980s forced Veco into bankruptcy.

Allen refused to budge, and in 1989 his fortunes changed when Exxon hired Veco to lead the cleanup after the tanker Exxon Valdez dumped 10.8 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound.

He also had a brief role as a hero in 1988, when he and Veco helped rescue three gray whales trapped in the ice near Point Barrow, a story told in the 2012 film “Big Miracle,” starring Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski. .

Back on his feet, Mr. Allen focused his energies on lobbying and politics. Although he claimed to be apolitical, he tended to support Republicans. By the late 1990s, he was the center of gravity in Alaskan politics, regularly ranked by the media as the most powerful businessman in the state.

In 1989 he bought one of the state’s largest newspapers, The Anchorage Times. Vowing to take on his rival, The Anchorage Daily News, he ended up throwing his newspaper to the ground.

He closed it down and sold its assets to The Daily News in 1992, with the stipulation that he be given regular space on the paper’s editorial page to express his conservative political views. He continued the column until 2007, when his legal problems forced him to stop.

Mr. Allen sold Veco that same year, netting him and his children approximately $146 million. They spent the money on racehorses and a private plane. One horse, Mine That Bird, won the Kentucky Derby in 2009.

He was released from prison in 2011 and later lived in New Mexico and Colorado. He continued to be dogged by sexual assault allegations, including a 2014 lawsuit from a woman he said he had been in a relationship with when he was 15 years old.

However, the federal government refused to reopen its investigation, even under pressure from Alaska’s two US senators, Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, both Republicans.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.