By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Jurors heard secretly recorded telephone conversations yesterday in which Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) told a chief prosecution witness that the two men had done nothing wrong and that the worst punishment they could expect was a fine and a little jail time.
The tapes, recorded with the consent of the witness, former Veco chief executive Bill Allen, did not appear to be the smoking guns in Stevens's trial on charges that he lied on financial disclosure forms to hide gifts that included renovations to his Alaska home.
They did reveal, however, that Stevens was aware the FBI was closely scrutinizing the remodeling project. On the calls, Stevens expressed defiance at the federal investigation and told Allen that he would stick by him. He seemed unaware that Allen, a close friend, was helping federal agents.
"The worst that can happen to us is we run up a bunch of legal fees, and might lose and we might have to pay a fine, might have to serve some time in jail," Stevens told Allen in a call recorded in October 2006. "I hope to Christ it never gets to that. . . . I don't think we have done anything wrong."
Stevens (R) is charged with lying on financial disclosure forms to hide receiving more than $250,000 in gifts, including renovations to his home in Girdwood, Alaska. Federal prosecutors allege that many of the gifts and renovations were financed by Allen.
Allen has pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy charges in an extensive federal investigation of Alaska politics. His testimony has helped convict two state legislators on corruption charges.
Under cross-examination by Stevens's lead attorney, Brendan Sullivan, Allen admitted that he never tried to bribe Stevens, whom he said he deeply respected.
"You knew you couldn't bribe Senator Ted Stevens, could you?" Sullivan asked him.
"No," he replied.
The former executive revealed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Washington that FBI agents approached him on Aug. 30, 2006, and asked for his cooperation. The next day, he recorded the first of what appears to be several phone conversations he had with Stevens.
In the first call, Allen told Stevens that his home and office had been raided by federal agents. Stevens said he would back his friend, "no matter what comes up."
"Let's stick this thing out together," Stevens said.
Stevens, 84, who is seeking reelection to a seventh full term, also urged Allen to take care of his health and encouraged him to work out on gym equipment at his Girdwood home. Allen testified earlier yesterday that he bought that equipment, including a punching bag.
In another call, Stevens told Allen that his attorneys had warned him to be careful in his dealings with the Veco executive to avoid a charge of obstructing justice.
"I think they are probably listening to this conversation right now, for Christ's sakes," Stevens said, referring to federal agents. He added that he didn't care if they were eavesdropping because "I would tell them the same things if they were right in front of us."
Later, Stevens said investigators "can't really hurt us."
"They aren't going to shoot us," Stevens said. "It's not Iraq."
The men spoke several times about their affection for each other.
At the end of the first tape-recorded call, Stevens told Allen: "You are one of the greatest friends I have ever had."
In another call, Allen said: "Ted, I love you, you know."
Last week, Allen testified that his company had financed much of the work done on Stevens's home from 1999 through 2006. That included jacking the house up on stilts to build a new first floor and later a wraparound deck. He said he even paid a portion of a plumber's bill.
Allen has testified that he paid for the work because he liked Stevens. He also said he never sent invoices to the senator to avoid running into trouble with his firm's top accountant.
Under cross-examination, Allen testified that he thought Stevens would have paid any bills he sent to him if they were for reasonable amounts. Stevens always paid for his meals and airfare on private jets, Allen testified.
Stevens's attorneys have asserted that senator would never have lied on financial disclosure forms. They say the senator and his wife paid $160,000 for the renovations, handled by a subcontractor, and thought that was a fair market price for the work.
And, the lawyers argue, Stevens would have paid for other bills if he had received them. Allen also admitted that he gave Stevens a gas grill and kitschy Christmas lights without asking Stevens or his wife.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan is likely to rule soon on a defense motion to dismiss the case or declare a mistrial because prosecutors allegedly did not disclose exculpatory evidence to Stevens's legal team. Sullivan has chastised prosecutors twice and ordered them to turn over to defense lawyers a stack of grand jury transcripts and witness interviews.
Prosecutors with the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section deny any wrongdoing. "Contrary to all the theatrics and hyperbole from the defense, no one has attempted to hide evidence or hold back any discoverable item," prosecutors wrote.