By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 9, 2008
A federal judge ruled yesterday that he would tell jurors to ignore two pieces of evidence that he said were tainted by government bungling in the trial of Sen. Ted Stevens on corruption charges.
It was the third time that U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan has chastised Justice Department prosecutors over their handling of witnesses or evidence in the trial.
Stevens (R-Alaska) is charged with lying on financial disclosure forms to disguise accepting more than $250,000 in gifts and renovations to his house in Girdwood, Alaska. Prosecutors allege that most of those gifts and renovations were provided by Bill Allen, the former chief executive of Veco, a now-defunct oil services firm that specialized in maintaining oil rigs.
Sullivan said he would tell jurors to ignore evidence concerning the hours worked by two Veco workers on Stevens's house because prosecutors knew the information "was not true." One of the employees was in another state when Veco records -- introduced as evidence by prosecutors -- showed him working on the house. Defense lawyers did not learn that information until they reviewed documents that prosecutors disclosed a few days ago in response to another evidentiary ruling.
"Something smells here," Sullivan said.
The judge said he was also troubled by how prosecutors handled evidence concerning what they have alleged was a sweetheart car swap between Allen and Stevens. In 1999, Stevens gave Allen his 1960s-era Ford Mustang and $5,000 in cash for a new Land Rover valued at $44,000. Prosecutors did not give defense lawyers a check that Allen used to buy the Land Rover from the dealership. Defense lawyers questioned Allen and introduced documents that showed the Land Rover was not that expensive. Prosecutors then produced a check written by Allen for $44,339.
In throwing out the car evidence, Sullivan said prosecutors should have turned the check over to defense lawyers much earlier.