Bill J. Allen, an itinerant pipe fitter who rose to be one of the most powerful men in Alaska and a dominant figure in the state’s oil industry, then fell from grace in a spectacular bribery and corruption scheme that also took down a U.S. senator, died on June 29. He was 85.
His death was confirmed by Callahan-Edfast Mortuary & Crematory, a funeral home in Grand Junction, Colo., where he had been living. A representative of the funeral home declined to say where he died or cite a cause.
As the president and chief executive 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 greasing the connections between the two, shuffling money into the coffers of friendly politicians, who in turn kept companies like Veco flush with work. By the early 2000s, Veco was the largest Alaska-owned and Alaska-based company, with 3,500 employees, 18 subsidiaries and $400 million in annual revenue.
A high school dropout from New Mexico, Mr. Allen enjoyed a reputation as something of a cowboy; brash and boastful, he all but openly distributed his financial largess to shape state politics. He was fined $28,000 in 1985 for surreptitiously pooling money from Veco employees and passing it to several oil-friendly political candidates.
Eventually he and one of his vice presidents, Rick Smith, settled into an almost comically corrupt arrangement with a coterie of state politicians.
They regularly booked a suite at the Westmark Baranof, a luxury Art Deco hotel four blocks from the State Capitol in Juneau, where they dished out money and told their visitors what they wanted in return.
Mr. Allen and his circle seemed to revel in their 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, the easier to dole them out to friendly politicians. The girlfriend of one politician even had hats embroidered with the letters CBC, for “Corrupt Bastards Club.”
But Mr. Allen’s consistency proved his undoing. Federal agents got wind of the arrangement and placed a pinhole camera in the wall opposite his favorite chair. After recording hours and hours of illicit activity, they confronted Mr. Allen and Mr. Smith in August 2006. Mr. Allen agreed to cooperate that same day.
He might have felt additional pressure to play ball. As early as 2004, law enforcement officials had been investigating multiple accusations 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 Department of Justice denied that its decision to do so was part of the deal.
Mr. Allen became the government’s key witness in a string 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 that he had failed to register a series of gifts from Mr. Allen, notably an extensive renovation of the senator’s home south of Anchorage.
The two had been friends — they even owned a racehorse together — but that didn’t prevent 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 renovation.
Three months after that, an F.B.I. whistle-blower claimed that prosecutors had withheld evidence from Mr. Stevens’s defense lawyers, including an interview in which Mr. Allen said he had never spoken with Mr. Stevens’s intermediary. The Department of Justice asked the judge to drop the indictment, which he promptly did. (Mr. Stevens had not yet been sentenced.)
Mr. Stevens died in an airplane crash in 2010.
William James Allen was born on April 6, 1937, in Socorro, N.M., 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. Further information on survivors was not immediately available.
He dropped out of high school at 15 to work in New Mexico’s oil industry, first as a welder and then as a pipe fitter. He moved around, ending up in California before heading to Alaska in about 1967.
His timing was perfect. A few months after he arrived, 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 ramp up their operations.
Mr. Allen and a friend, Wayne Veltri, founded a services outfit they called the Veltri Company, which they later shortened to Veco. Mr. Allen bought out Mr. Veltri in 1970.
Though it started small, with just four employees, the company grew rapidly on the strength of the Alaskan oil boom. By the end of the 1970s, Veco had expanded into gold mining, drilling and even shipbuilding. But a drop in oil industry revenues in the early ’80s forced Veco into bankruptcy.
Mr. Allen refused to buckle, and in 1989 his fortunes turned around 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 turn as a hero in 1988, when he and Veco helped rescue three gray whales stuck in ice near Point Barrow — a story recounted 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. Though he claimed to be apolitical, he tended to support Republicans. By the end of the 1990s he was the gravitational center of Alaskan politics, regularly ranked by the news media as the most powerful businessman in the state.
In 1989 he bought one of the state’s largest newspapers, The Anchorage Times. Promising to take on its rival, The Anchorage Daily News, he ended up running his paper into the ground.
He shuttered it and sold its assets to The Daily News in 1992, with the stipulation that he be given a regular space on the paper’s editorial page to voice his conservative political views. He continued the column until 2007, when his legal troubles 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 accusations, including a 2014 lawsuit by a woman who said that he had carried on a relationship with her when she was 15.
However, the federal government refused to reopen its investigation, even under pressure from Alaska’s two U.S. senators, Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, both Republicans.
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