Prosecution Calling Ex-VECO Chief to Testify

Posted September 26, 2008 at 6:37pm

A key witness is set to testify as early as Tuesday in the trial of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens (R), when federal prosecutors call former VECO executive Bill Allen, whose company is alleged to have provided the lawmaker with more than $250,000 in gifts.

Stevens is charged with seven counts of filing false financial statements to conceal the receipt of those gifts — largely in the form of renovations to his home in Girdwood, Alaska — from the now-defunct VECO oil services firm. He has pleaded not guilty.

Federal prosecutors are scheduled today to call as many as 14 witnesses, including former Stevens spokeswoman Courtney Boone.

When Allen takes the stand, prosecutors are expected to question him for up to five and a half hours about his relationship with Stevens, as well as extensive renovations to the lawmaker’s home performed largely by VECO employees and allegedly paid for by Allen.

Stevens’ attorney, Brendan Sullivan, sought to portray Allen in his opening statement Thursday as someone who at times delivered unwanted gifts to Stevens and even failed to bill the lawmaker for portions of the renovation project. Stevens has said he and his wife paid for the renovations.

Stevens’ attorneys are expected to conduct an equally extensive cross-examination of Allen, which could also last up to a full day.

But federal prosecutors filed a motion Friday seeking to limit the defense team’s ability to query Allen about his role in two local criminal investigations, including an ongoing Anchorage, Alaska, probe into “allegations of misconduct.” The motion did not specify the alleged crimes.

“The court should limit questioning of these witnesses when the cross examination strategy behind the questioning will serve no purpose other than to impair the search for the truth; harass, annoy, or humiliate the witness; improperly inflame the jury; and unfairly prejudice the government’s case against defendant,” wrote William Welch, chief of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section.

The motion also seeks to suppress questions about two other witnesses, former VECO employees David Anderson and Rocky Williams, who are “rumored to engage in excessive alcohol consumption.”

Stevens’ attorneys had yet to file a response Friday but are expected to object. Sullivan said Allen’s attorney, Creighton Magid, has declined to allow the defense to interview him prior to the trial, and Magid demurred when asked by the judge Friday whether such an interview would be possible.

Judge Emmet Sullivan is expected to rule on the motion after Allen’s testimony for the government.

In addition, the defense attorneys subpoenaed medical records related to injuries Allen sustained in a motorcycle accident, including brain damage and a subsequent speech impairment.

Stevens’ attorneys, however, said Friday that they had yet to receive copies of radiological studies from an Alaska hospital as well as documents from a University of California at Los Angeles facility, and it appeared unlikely the cross-examination would begin immediately.

Allen, who pleaded guilty to bribing Alaska state legislators, has discussed his speech impairment in two other court appearances. Allen is one of eight people convicted to date as the result of a federal investigation into state and federal corruption in Alaska.

Judge Sullivan predicted the trial could be completed earlier than the initial four weeks expected for the case after federal prosecutors sped through nearly a third of their witnesses in less than two days.

“I don’t think this is a four-week trial,” the judge said Friday. A short time later he chastised federal prosecutors for not being prepared for the shorter schedule when attorneys were unable to provide a list of potential witnesses for today and Tuesday.

“We realized in the last 24 hours we were going a whole lot faster than we thought,” prosecutor Nick Marsh said.

Nevertheless, Judge Sullivan demanded prosecutors turn over a list of expected witnesses immediately, telling prosecutors at one point: “I will conclude the government’s case is over. … I better get an answer to who the witnesses are in the next 10 minutes.”

Prosecutors eventually provided a list of nine witnesses and said they would have up to an additional 12 witnesses before they are expected to conclude their case a week from today.

Federal prosecutors put a cadre of five former VECO employees and a subcontractor on the witness stand Friday in an effort to demonstrate the company’s extensive involvement in renovations to the home that nearly doubled its size and expanded it from a simple A-frame building to a two-story home with a garage.

The government team grilled the witnesses in minute detail about interior and exterior work on the home, ranging from electrical wiring to metal roofing.

At one point, Stevens appeared to give a thumbs-up to witness Michael Luther, who testified about his work for a construction firm hired to perform finishing work on the home, including interior walls.

After completing his testimony, Luther smiled in Stevens’ direction, and he then gave the hand signal.

Prosecutors also called former VECO accountant Cheryl Boomershine, who testified extensively about invoices and expense reports, as well as documentation for employees paid to work on the Girdwood renovation project.

Among the items Boomershine identified on the witness stand was an expense report for about $2,000 from a VECO employee tasked with day-to-day management of the Girdwood renovation.

Attached to the report was a handwritten note by Boomershine inquiring about what the Girdwood project was. Another employee had also written on the note, stating there was to be “no paper trail” on the project at Allen’s request.

Boomershine also testified that after an extensive review of VECO’s records, only two checks could be located from Stevens and his wife.

“There were two deposits found to have been checks deposited by Ted Stevens,” she said. Those checks, for about $420 and $1,710, respectively, contained notes stating the payments were for travel in Alaska and elsewhere.

Sara Ditta of CongressNow contributed to this report.