Washington’s most parochial federal office holder might be headed for Texas. No, not short-timer President George W. Bush, but 84-year-old Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), best known for his Texas-size appetite for Alaskan pork. If convicted on any of seven felony counts of failing to declare, in mandatory Senate filings, gifts that he received from an Alaska oil services company, he could have an old friend as his cellmate.
|Love Lost: The former home of Love Social Services can be yours for $375,000, according to a real estate listing.
Credit: Bill Treanor
In June, the former Fairbanks mayor, the Rev. James C. “Jim” Hayes, 62, began serving a 5½-year sentence in the Federal Correctional Institution in Fort Worth, Texas. Federal Prisoner #14804-006 Hayes, along with his wife, Murilda “Chris” Hayes, 57, were convicted of stealing federal funds earmarked by Stevens for a church-affiliated youth center in Fairbanks known as Love Social Services, which they founded. Jim Hayes’ defense was that his wife is mentally ill and he knew nothing about the federal grants.
Over a five-year period, Stevens steered almost $1.7 million in Juvenile Justice Act funds to Love Social Services, along with $1.175 million in Housing and Urban Development funds. Much of the $2.875 million found its way into the Hayeses’ pockets or was used to rescue the over-budget building of a new Lily of the Valley Church of God in Christ across the street from the old humble church. Love Social Services bought the old building, at what prosecutors contended was an inflated price, for its new home.
The shameless Stevens, named the “Alaskan of the Century” in 2000, insists that his promiscuous earmarking for Alaska is necessary because the state is “ignored” by the federal government. No matter that the state leads the nation in per capita federal spending. (In 2006, the state got $13,805 in federal funds for each Alaskan, which was 71 percent above the U.S. average, which itself was up from about 38 percent above the national average in 1996.) In the youth-serving field, Alaska (population: 676,987) received 141 earmarks from 2001 through 2006, including five to Love Social Services. Even the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, which extensively reported on the Hayes heist story, had to acknowledge that Alaska’s image “has steered toward that of a pork-barrel state.”
Even after Jim Hayes was convicted on multiple charges of conspiracy, theft, fraud, misappropriation of federal funds, money laundering and filing false tax returns, Stevens told the Daily News-Miner, “I still think a lot of Jim Hayes.” Hayes apparently doesn’t think much of his wife pleading guilty to reduced charges; before her sentencing, she wrote to the judge about her continuing mental and physical problems because of the case. Taking the stand in his own behalf, Jim Hayes blamed the money troubles on his wife.
Much of the state’s GOP leadership has either been convicted, indicted, or investigated for bribery, including Stevens’ son, former state senator Ben Stevens. (Except for popular Gov. Sarah Palin, a rebel in her own party, with an approval rating hovering around 90 percent.) No wonder Alaska’s sole congressman, Rep. Don Young (R), called Stevens “one of the most effective and honest legislators I have ever worked with.” Young himself is reported to be a target of federal corruption investigators.
Both Stevens and Young face strong opposition in their re-election bids, including opponents from within the fractured GOP.
Also fractured from within is Hayes’ former church. The congregation has split into three warring factions. With a church mortgage payment of $15,000 per month, one neighbor thinks the whole operation is not long for this world. Surely there is no better example of the corrupting power of congressional earmarks when intertwined with the danger lurking for churches that have embraced the politicized cash dispensed by the Bush administration’s Faith-Based Initiative.
If convicted in a Washington, D.C., trial (set to begin this month) and incarcerated (he has a “perfect” record of voting for harsh criminal penalties), Stevens could pass through the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on his way, perhaps, to Fort Worth, where his good friend and possible roommate Jim Hayes will be waiting.