Allegation on Billing Rebutted

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), charged with hiding gifts on disclosure forms, leaves the federal courthouse with his daughters Beth Stevens, left, and Susan Stevens Covich.
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), charged with hiding gifts on disclosure forms, leaves the federal courthouse with his daughters Beth Stevens, left, and Susan Stevens Covich. (By Jose Luis Magana -- Associated Press)
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By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 16, 2008

A close friend of Sen. Ted Stevens denied telling a business executive that he didn't have to bill the Republican lawmaker for extensive renovations to his Alaska house, rebutting a key allegation by federal prosecutors in the senator's corruption trial.

The friend, Bob Persons, is a central figure in Stevens's trial in federal court on charges that he lied on financial disclosure forms to hide more than $250,000 in gifts and renovations to his house in Girdwood from 1999 through 2006. Prosecutors allege that many of the gifts and remodeling work were financed by Bill Allen, a star prosecution witness and the former chief executive of Veco, a now-defunct oil services company.

Allen, a former friend of Stevens's, has testified that he approached Persons after he received a hand-written note from the senator in 2002 asking to be billed for a first-floor deck installed by Veco workers. The Veco executive testified that he then approached Persons, who told him to ignore Stevens's request because the senator was just "covering" himself.

Persons, a defense witness, denied he had said such a thing.

"Did you ever say to Bill Allen, 'Bill, don't worry about getting a bill, Ted is just covering' " himself? defense lawyer Robert Cary asked.

"No," Persons said. "That's crazy."

Prosecutors have alleged that Persons acted as a go-between for Stevens and Allen.

Persons owns the Double Musky Inn, a Cajun restaurant near Stevens's house. Because Stevens and his wife spend so much time in Washington, Persons kept track of the renovations and sent the couple constant updates via e-mail. Veco workers have testified that they helped transform Stevens's cabin into a two-story home with wraparound decks and a garage.

Although he helped the defense rebut Allen's testimony, Persons acknowledged that Veco did a lot of work on Stevens's home.

He read a litany of e-mails to jurors that he sent Stevens during the renovation period in which he complimented Allen and other Veco workers for their remodeling efforts. In one 2001 note, Persons told Stevens that a Veco foreman "is building this like a fine cabinet."

During cross-examination, prosecutors hammered at Persons for inconsistent statements he gave to a grand jury and in court yesterday. Persons also acknowledged that he told the grand jury that he had a bad memory.

Stevens's attorneys have asserted that the senator paid every bill he received for the renovations -- to a tune of $160,000. They have argued that Stevens's wife oversaw most of the project and that Allen hid other bills.


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