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Familiar tale: Misuse of grants sends another Alaskan to jail

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Posted: Monday, December 3, 2012 11:47 pm | Updated: 4:15 pm, Fri Jan 25, 2013.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Editorial

It was sad to see the sentencing of Maggie Ahmaogak last week for stealing several hundred thousand dollars from the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, where she was executive director from 1990 to 2007.

U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason sentenced Ahmaogak, 62, to three years and five months in jail rather than the house arrest that the former commission director had requested. Ahmaogak also will spend three years on probation after her release. She must repay the commission almost $400,000.

Part of the commission’s funding during Ahmaogak’s tenure came from congressional earmarks directed through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In recent years, the agency has contracted with the group to collect biological data on whales taken by North Slope crews, report all whale strikes, allocate the allowable strikes among villages with crews and collect fines from those who violate the rules. The rules include a prohibition on the commercial sale of the meat.

According to evidence presented by prosecutors, Ahmaogak and her husband, former North Slope Borough Mayor George Ahmaogak, gambled with the commission’s money and improperly used it to buy, for example, a Hummer and snowmachines. Items sometimes went to other people who had connections to whaling or commission work. Maggie Ahmoagak justified the expenses in part through those associations.

Alaskans with some seniority might recall when Mayor Ahmaogak was elected to the first of his five terms a few decades ago. He was an inspiring figure back then, the reform candidate coming in to clean up the corruption that plagued the borough. He wasn’t implicated in the embezzlement, but prosecutors said he helped spend the money.

Unfortunately, the temptations created by a combination of generous federal grants and lagging oversight are too much to resist for even well-intentioned people. 

This might be a familiar story line to Fairbanks residents. Former city Mayor Jim Hayes and his wife, Chris, got themselves into trouble by following a similar recipe. They misused money earmarked by former Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, for their nonprofit group, LOVE Social Services, and were sent to jail in 2008.

The lesson for others in these positions should be clear. It might take a few years, but it’s likely that any misuse of federal grants eventually will be discovered and prosecuted for what it is: stealing.

 

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