By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Members of the Justice Department team that investigated and tried Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) withheld evidence and had inappropriate relationships with witnesses, according to an FBI agent who worked on the case.
The allegations are contained in a whistleblower complaint made public yesterday. It alleges that FBI agents met with witnesses in their homes and hotel rooms and even provided one source with a bureau-issued cellphone. An FBI agent apparently became so friendly with a key witness that the investigator wore a special outfit when the man testified. "It was a surprise/present for Allen," the complaint alleged, in a reference to former oil executive Bill Allen.
The whistleblowing agent, who joined the bureau in 2003, also wrote that members of the prosecution team "created a scheme" to send a witness home before trial and that they inappropriately altered a document later turned over to Stevens's attorneys.
The eight-page letter containing the allegations was filed with the Justice Department after Stevens was convicted in late October. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who presided over Stevens's trial, reprimanded prosecutors several times for their handling of witnesses and evidence. Within an hour of the document becoming public, Stevens's attorneys asked Sullivan to throw out the conviction or grant the senator a new trial. Sullivan has not acted on the complaint.
"We now know from a government insider that the prosecution's misconduct was far more pervasive than previously revealed," Stevens's attorneys wrote in court papers.
A redacted version of the whistleblower's letter was made public under an order issued by Sullivan late Friday. Prosecutors brought the letter to Sullivan's attention Dec. 11. The judge has scheduled a hearing for next month to deal with separate allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, made by a witness.
The whistleblowing agent, whose identity could not be determined, apparently made the complaint to the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, according to Sullivan's ruling.
"We will continue to litigate in the court all matters, including these allegations, related to the jury's conviction of Senator Ted Stevens," Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said yesterday in a statement.
The whistleblowing agent, who worked extensively on the investigation and the trial, reportedly felt compelled to come forward because "I have learned of serious violations of policy, rules, and procedures as well as possible criminal violations," the letter says.
Stevens, who lost a reelection bid in November, was convicted in Washington of seven counts of lying on financial disclosure forms to disguise more than $250,000 in gifts and renovations to his Alaska house.
Prosecutors said the renovations and gifts were largely funded by a now-defunct oil services company, Veco, and its chief executive, Allen.
Allen testified that he paid for the work and provided the laborers to turn Stevens's small cabin in Girdwood into a two-story house with two decks, a whirlpool and a garage.
The whistleblower wrote that an agent became inappropriately close to Allen, met with him in a Washington hotel room and wore a special outfit for him when he testified. That agent or another one accepted free artwork from a source, the whistleblower alleged.
An agent also tipped off sources and witnesses to details of the investigation, the whistleblower wrote.
The letter alleged that investigators and prosecutors mishandled evidence and did not enter large amounts of documents into computer databases to make them easier to catalogue and track.
One member of the prosecution team improperly redacted information in a report that was handed over to the defense lawyers so it would "fit" information previously provided to them, the whistleblower alleged.
The agent also detailed a "scheme" by the Justice Department to send Rocky Williams, a former Veco employee and potential witness, back to Alaska before trial. Williams had been subpoenaed by both sides to testify, and defense lawyers said prosecutors should have alerted them before sending him home.
Prosecutors "decided that Williams was not a witness [they] wanted to use" after a mock cross-examination, the agent wrote.