By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) quickly turned a $5,000 Florida condo investment into a profit of more than $100,000 in a questionable transaction that federal prosecutors would like to introduce as evidence at his trial next month on charges that he lied on financial disclosure forms.
The investment and other details of investigators' case were disclosed late Thursday in a flurry of court papers filed by prosecutors and defense lawyers gearing up for the first trial of a sitting U.S. senator in more than two decades. The trial is tentatively scheduled to start Sept. 22.
Stevens was indicted last month by a federal grand jury on charges of not reporting on Senate financial disclosure forms that he accepted more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations from executives of Veco, a now defunct oil services company in Alaska. Prosecutors allege that Stevens helped Veco and its executives on a variety of federal and state issues.
Veco's former chief executive, Bill Allen, pleaded guilty last year to bribing public officials and is expected to testify at Stevens's trial.
In court papers filed Thursday, prosecutors revealed new details about ties between Veco's executives and Stevens. Among the revelations: Prosecutors possess tape-recorded conversations in which Stevens said he would help Veco executives with stalled state legislation needed to authorize construction of a natural gas pipeline.
In one tape-recorded call, Stevens told Allen that he and one of his sons -- then the Alaska state Senate president -- would "try to see if I can get some bigwigs from back here to go up there and say, 'Look, you just gotta make up your mind, you gotta get this done,' " prosecutors wrote.
Stevens himself later urged a state Senate committee to pass the pipeline legislation, prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors allege that Veco's executives asked for other favors from Stevens and his staff, including help winning a sizable federal grant and assistance in obtaining federal funding for a job-training program.
Stevens's lawyers did not respond to messages seeking comment on the new allegations.
In court papers, however, defense attorneys urged U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan to toss out the indictment, arguing that it was too vague and trampled the Constitution's speech-or-debate clause, which is intended to prevent the executive branch from meddling in Congress's legislative work.
"The only way to cure its constitutional infirmity is to dismiss the indictment in its entirety," wrote Robert M. Cary, one of Stevens's attorneys.
Prosecutors countered in court documents that their "criminal case against Senator Stevens is not based on his legislative activities, but on his receipt of financial benefits and his need to conceal those benefits from public scrutiny."
Many of the new details were disclosed in prosecutors' motion seeking to overcome legal hurdles stemming from the speech-or-debate legal challenge.
Other allegations were included in a motion seeking to introduce evidence at trial that was not included in the indictment. Prosecutors argued that the information -- including details about the condo windfall -- would provide context and background jurors would need in order to understand the charges.
In 2001, prosecutors wrote, Stevens and an unidentified friend were involved in the Florida condo deal that resulted in a massive profit for the senator.
Stevens was required to put down 10 percent of the $360,000 sales price. Stevens only invested $5,000, prosecutors alleged, and received a $31,000 interest-free loan from the friend to make up the difference. The friend was a partner in the development company, prosecutors wrote.
Within a few months, Stevens sold the condo for $515,000 and eventually repaid the $31,000 loan, prosecutors wrote.
Stevens never disclosed the interest-free loan on his Senate financial disclosure statements, they wrote.
Prosecutors also alleged that Veco paid for extensive renovations to Stevens's Girdwood, Alaska, home.
Stevens asked Allen, other Veco executives and an intermediary to find jobs for his family members, including a son and grandson. The son was hired by Veco and received a personal loan from Allen, prosecutors wrote. The grandson was placed in a job-training program at Veco expense, prosecutors alleged.
Staff Writer Carrie Johnson and news researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this story.