Alaska state records now indicate that Kotzebue school teacher Paul Dewitt Atkins – who was earlier this month convicted of being a non-resident hunter posing as a resident for years – filed for a Permanent Fund Dividend in 2020 and may have been illegally doing so for almost two decades.
Why Atkins wasn’t charged with PFD fraud is unknown. The state has generally taken such cases seriously. Two of the stars of the reality TV show Alaskan Bush People were sent to jail for 30 days in 2016, along with being ordered to pay the state back, after they were caught lying about their residency status to collect PFDs.
Queried on why Atkins escaped prosecution, the Alaska Department of Law Wednesday dodged the question with a spokeswoman e-mailing the response that “the Office of Special prosecution for Fish and Game does not investigate cases. We prosecute crimes investigated by the Alaska Wildlife Troopers and then referred to our office. Questions regarding how the investigation was conducted are better suited for the Troopers.”
It was the Department of Law, however, which negotiated a plea deal with Atkins to get him to plead guilty to hunting charges in a Nome court, and what exactly was covered in that plea deal is unknown.
Atkins’ hunting convictions came after it was discovered he was claiming to be a resident of Oklahoma, his old home state, when purchasing hunting licenses there.
That act voided his Alaska residency for hunting purposes, and state law is very clear that such a claim also makes one ineligible for a PFD, the annual payment residents Alaskans receive as their share of the earnings from oil wealth invested in the now $79.5 billion Permanent Fund.
Alaska regulations state that “an individual is not eligible for a dividend if, at any time from January 1 of the qualifying year through the date of application, the individual has…obtained a resident hunting, fishing, or trapping license from another state or country.”
Kenai Peninsula commercial fisherman Roland Maw lost his long coveted seat on the state Board of Fisheries and spent years fighting the state in court over his PFDs after it was discovered he was hunting under resident licenses in both Alaska and Montana, where he maintained a comfortable second home where his wife spent much of her time.
Maw was eventually convicted and ordered to reimburse the state for the illegally garnered PFDs, but he avoided jail.
The Atkinses, like the Maws, have property outside. Delaware County, OK, records say Paul and Susan Atkins have owned a very modest, 2,500-square-foot home in Jay, OK, since at least 2009. They appear to have bought it from Paul’s parents who live not far away.
Owning a second-home Outide is not uncommon for Alaskans with the means to do so. The winters in Alaska are long, dark and cold, and some think it is nice to have someplace to escape to at times.
The 49th state is famous for what is locally called “termination dust,” the first snow of the year on the mountains that historically sent large numbers of miners and commercial fishermen scurrying south for the winter.
There is also a long list of “allowable absences” that range from serving in the military to caring for a terminally ill family member, competing in the Olympics, serving in the Peace Corps, or serving in or taking a job working for an Alaskan in Congress.
But those, too, disappear once someone accepts a benefit from another state, be it resident tuition at a university Outside, the opportunity to vote in another state’s election, a property tax break such as the Oklahoma Homestead Exemption, or a resident hunting and/or fishing license in another state to name just a few benefits on the PFD disqualification list.
The “Paul Atkins?”
It is impossible to say for certain at this time if the Paul Atkins who appears regularly in the PFD records from 2003 on is the same Paul Atkins convicted of illegal hunting, given that the state no longer puts addresses along with names on its website.
But Paul appears under his full given name – Paul Dewitt Atkins – on the list in 2020, and his son, Elijah P. Atkins, firsts appears in the records along with a Paul and Susan Atkins in 2003.
Elijah would then have been the newborn son of Paul Dewitt and Susan Ann Atkins. The subsequent year’s filing in 2004 PFD list applications from Elijah P., Paul D. and Susan A. Atkins..
Atkins is a fairly common name, and this could all be a coincidence. A search of online databases did turn up one other Paul Atkins in Alaska, but that Atkins – Paul C. – appears to have left the state in 2004.
The Paul Atkins formerly of Kotzebue has yet to respond to a request for comment. Where is now living is unclear. And his Facebook page has gone dark.