Attorney for Stevens Tells Jurors Alaska Senator 'Is Honest,' Did Not Lie
Friday, September 26, 2008
Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens (R) paid every bill sent to him for extensive renovations of his home and did not lie on financial disclosure forms, his attorney told jurors yesterday, as testimony began in the first trial of a sitting U.S. senator in more than two decades.
"The evidence will demonstrate that you are dealing here with a man who is honest and would not have intentionally violated the law," Stevens's lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, said in his opening statement in U.S. District Court.
Stevens, 84, one of the Senate's most powerful Republicans, is charged with failing to disclose in Senate documents that he received more than $250,000 in gifts and extensive renovations to his home, which he calls "the chalet," in Girdwood, Alaska.
Prosecutors alleged yesterday that Stevens hid those gifts and renovations to avoid public scrutiny of his ties to Bill Allen, the top executive of an oil services company, Veco. Allen and Veco funded many of the improvements, which included adding a new first floor, a garage and a wraparound deck.
But Sullivan yesterday accused Allen of hiding the true costs of the project from the senator. Sullivan told jurors that Stevens relied on Allen to oversee the project because the lawmaker spent most of his time in Washington and trusted Allen, a longtime friend who had experience in construction, Sullivan said.
"You can't report what you don't know," he said. "You can't fill out a form and report what was kept from you from the deviousness of someone like Bill Allen."
Allen, who has pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy charges, has provided critical testimony that led to convictions in federal court of two Alaska state legislators, as part of a wide-ranging public corruption investigation. He is expected to be a key prosecution witness in Stevens's trial.
After he was indicted in late July, Stevens requested a speedy trial in the hope of clearing his name before the November election. He is seeking his seventh full term in the Senate but is behind in the polls.
Seeking to counter prosecutors' arguments that Stevens was trying to skirt the financial disclosure system, Sullivan told jurors that his client paid more than $160,000 in renovation costs. He added that Stevens relied on his second wife, Catherine, to oversee much of the project.
"Catherine ran the financial part of the renovation," Sullivan said, adding that the senator's family had a saying: "When it comes to things around the tepee, the wife controls."
Stevens paid some bills for work performed by a subcontractor who funneled invoices to Stevens through Veco, prosecutors acknowledged. But they said Stevens did not pay tens of thousands of dollars in other costs borne by Veco, which provided materials and whose employees supervised or performed much of the work.
Prosecutors estimate the cost of those renovations and gifts given to Stevens by Allen and other friends at more than $250,000.