Young linked to federal investigation
By FREDERIC J. FROMMER
The Associated Press
(Published: March 20, 2007)
WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers who championed legislation easing truck-hauling regulations said this week that they had no idea that Kenosha, Wis., businessman Dennis Troha's consulting company stood to gain financially from the legislation's passage.
U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic said that federal investigators are looking into the deal, in which Troha will be paid by his former trucking company, JHT Holdings, through 2010 because Congress passed legislation helping the company.
The legislation, which was included as an amendment in a highway spending bill that became law in 2005, was offered by Reps. Don Young, R-Alaska, and Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., who was at the time the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Transportation Committee. Both members have received more than $20,000 from Troha and his family members and associates.
In addition, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., had written to Young and Oberstar urging them to support the new regulations.
Bank records obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel show that Troha's consulting firm, T Group Consulting, received two wire transfers of more than $107,000 from JHT a month after the highway bill became law.
Troha was indicted March 1 on charges of illegally funneling more than $100,000 in campaign donations to Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle and the federal account of the state Democratic Party.
The indictment alleges Troha concealed the nature of the transactions in his attempt to obtain approval for a casino in Kenosha and lied to the FBI about it. Troha, the former owner of a major trucking firm now at the center of a multistate tax dispute, has pleaded not guilty.
Ryan said he has donated the $58,000 he received from Troha and his family members to the Kenosha Boys & Girls Club because of that indictment.
The new trucking regulations, which the Federal Highway Administration is scheduled to put into effect this week, will allow 97-foot-long multitruck combinations. Before that, states were allowed to impose 75-foot maximum lengths.
A spokesman for Oberstar, who is now chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said that the congressman supported the amendment after looking into it and determining that the new rules would be safe.
"Jim has traditionally been concerned about longer vehicles," said the spokesman, John Schadl. "He took a long look at this and had to be reassured before he would allow it."
Schadl said that Oberstar meets with constituents and lobbyists all the time on issues.
"The important thing is all of these people clearly state who they are and what their agenda is," he said. "That clearly did not happen in this case, and he was very upset about it."
He added: "The congressman does feel he was misled here. A lot of people represent a lot of groups. You have to be up front."
Shadl said Oberstar was mostly lobbied by John Erickson, a JHT Holdings executive, and by the company’s Washington lobbyist, Stuart Dye. Schadl said that neither of them mentioned the deal with Troha’s consulting company.
Erickson said that he didn’t know about the deal at the time. Dye did not immediately return a telephone message left late Monday afternoon.
The Oberstar campaign’s field director, Alana Petersen, said that Oberstar will donate contributions he received from Troha, family members and associates to the U.S. Treasury’s Bureau of Public Debt.
Young's office declined to comment.
Ryan described his role as providing "routine and appropriate constituent service to a large employer in my district. ... I'm as frustrated as anyone to learn that some individuals did not disclose their personal interests, which were unbeknown to me at all."
He said that he and several colleagues decided to write the letter to the committee in 2005 because they believed the change would be good public policy. Ryan argued that it will improve safety and reduce fuel consumption.
But Dmitri Iglitzin, a labor-law attorney in Seattle, said the new rule will lead to less safety, not more.
"These vehicles are one-third the size of a football field -- these are huge, huge vehicles," he said. "It's dangerous. If it loses control, you have a potential for a catastrophic accident."
He called passage of the legislation "a classic example of what's wrong with the American political system, and what's wrong with Congress."
Troha's lawyer, Franklyn Gimbel, did not return telephone messages seeking comment Monday. But he told the Journal Sentinel his client is the victim of a "media feeding frenzy."
"There is not anything in the story that suggested any criminal wrongdoing," he said.
Gimbel said none of the dealings should be questioned and the deal simply meant Troha would be able to share in any profits the company saw if the legislation were to pass. He sold his majority share in JHT in early 2005 and has since sold all ownership.