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Alaska lawmaker ordered to repay $60,000 for improper gifts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House Ethics Committee on Friday ordered Representative Don Young to repay nearly $60,000 for trips to hunting lodges that involved improper gifts or the use of campaign funds, but the committee stopped short of issuing the Alaska Republican a full reprimand.

The committee, releasing the results of an investigation into 25 hunting trips for Young, his family and staff members between 2001 and 2013, found that expenses for 15 of the trips were improperly accepted or paid for out of campaign funds.

The panel's investigative subcommittee said in its findings that due to the "corrosion of evidence over time," it could not find that Young "purposefully or corruptly accepted any of the gifts in this matter."

"Representative Young's state of mind at the time he obtained the gifts did not impact whether he must repay the improper gifts and misused campaign funds. He must," the panel said.

The panel ordered a "letter of reproval" for Young. He was ordered to repay $30,936 to his campaign committee, Alaskans for Don Young, and $28,127 to 10 private individuals or companies.

Young, 81, is the longest-serving House Republican, first elected in 1973 in a special election. He is the sole House member from Alaska, representing the thinly populated state as an at-large district.

The ethics probe began in 2010, when Young requested that the Ethics Committee look into gifts that were also under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.

In a statement, Young said he has repaid the funds and "will continue to faithfully serve the people of Alaska", adding that the decision concluded both the Ethics Committee and the Justice Department probes into the matter

"There were a number of instances where I failed to exercise due care in complying with the House’s Code of Conduct and for that I apologize," Young said.

In 2005 Young became famous for the "Bridge to Nowhere" controversy over $223 million in federal funds that he and former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens steered to build a bridge to a small island. The project was later canceled.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Leslie Adler)