Former commissioner, racketeer dies in Portland

Posted: Wednesday, September 03, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Lewis M. ''Lew'' Dischner, who served as Alaska's first state commissioner of labor and was convicted of racketeering after leaving office, died Tuesday in Portland, Ore. He was 85.

Dischner was at home with family when he died, said longtime friend Howard D'Spain of Mesa, Ariz. The cause of death was not immediately available.

Dischner was president of the Carpenters Local 1243 in Fairbanks before statehood and was a leader in the Teamsters Union. A longtime Democratic Party activist, he was appointed Department of Labor commissioner under Gov. Bill Egan, when Alaska became a state in 1959.

He later became a Juneau businessman and powerful legislative lobbyist for the North Slope Borough as oil dollars flowed into the borough from the recently constructed trans-Alaska pipeline and the borough attempted to provide 20th century services to people in the harsh Arctic.

In the North Slope Borough scandal, Dischner and his partner, Carl Mathisen, were convicted in 1989 on more than 20 felony counts of extortion, mail and wire fraud and racketeering. Dischner also was ordered to forfeit $5.8 million.

''Lew Dischner was a great man who just went astray at one point in his life,'' said Doug Pope, Dischner's Anchorage attorney. ''Whether people will remember him that way I guess only history will tell.

''He was a great man who contributed to the growth and development of Alaska before he was ever charged with a crime.''

Dischner negotiated with oil companies to ensure that only Joint Crafts Council members were hired for construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline, according to his family and friends, and during the 1970s arranged for high school seniors to serve as pages in the Legislature to expand their knowledge of state government.

But his public service record was forever tainted after his conviction for bribing former North Slope Borough officials with gifts and trips, then using their influence over borough contracts to win kickbacks from contractors.

Dischner and Mathisen were convicted of corrupting the North Slope Borough government during the administration of Mayor Eugene Brower between 1981 and 1984.

Dischner worked as a consultant for Brower and as the North Slope Borough's lobbyist. Mathisen was Brower's capital projects consultant. At the same time, both men owned interests in companies doing business with the borough.

Federal prosecutors claimed they showered officials with money and gifts to influence the award of contracts and received bribes, kickbacks and other payments from businesses that received contracts, change orders and other cash from the North Slope Borough.

Prosecutors claimed the North Slope Borough government was defrauded by the increased cost of doing business because of actions by Dischner and Mathisen.

Among the allegations in their indictments: that Mathisen in 1982 gave Brower a 27-foot boat valued at $37,000 and that Dischner gave a similar vessel to the borough's public works director. The pair were also accused of giving Brower the use of an Anchorage home rent-free, plus cash, furniture, suits, the use of a car and a $45,000 diamond ring.

A wide-ranging investigation of the criminal activities began after Brower was defeated for the mayor's job by George Ahmaogak in October 1984.

Prosecutors said Dischner and Mathisen netted about $21 million in illegal income and added $73 million to the cost of the borough's massive construction program.

Brower testified for the prosecution as part of a plea bargain. He admitted lying initially to a grand jury to protect Dischner and Mathisen, but said he had a change of heart when he learned the extent of their secret financial interest in companies dealing with the borough.

Defense lawyers attributed the inflated cost of the borough's capital construction to difficult working conditions, a rush to finish the work and the Brower administration's desire to create jobs.

The trial of Dischner and Mathisen lasted more than seven months. The jury took more than three weeks to sort out the complicated details.

Dischner was sentenced to seven years in prison and served time at the Lompoc Federal Correctional Institute in California.

Brower was sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $5,000 for tax evasion.

Dischner is survived by his wife, Karen, and six children.

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