Stevens Trial Will Go On

Judge Penalizes Prosecution

Posted October 8, 2008 at 6:33pm

A visibly angry federal judge on Wednesday struck key government evidence from the trial of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) that he concluded was tainted, but he refused a defense motion to dismiss the trial.

[IMGCAP(1)]Judge Emmet Sullivan for the third time rejected a request from the defense to end the case because prosecutors had failed to timely turn over to Stevens’ attorneys evidence that could have been helpful in defending him.

But Sullivan, who chastised the prosecution for its repeated failure to provide potentially exculpatory evidence to the defense, said he will tell the jury that the government has provided evidence that it knew was false and failed to fulfill its obligation to fully inform the defense.

Prosecutors have alleged that Stevens accepted more than $250,000 worth of home renovations and other gifts, mostly from his friend and former oil company executive Bill Allen, and never reported those gifts on his Congressional financial disclosure forms as required by law.

Stevens’ attorneys have repeatedly accused the Justice Department of failing to turn over evidence that would have been useful in their case.

For more than an hour Wednesday afternoon, the judge berated prosecutors for failing to provide evidence in a timely matter.

He engaged in a lengthy dispute with Justice Department trial attorney Nicholas Marsh about VECO business records that the government had introduced into evidence last week.

Those records include time sheets indicating the amount of time that VECO employees Dave Anderson and Rocky Williams spent at Stevens’ house during the fall of 2000. Those billing records make up the basis of the government’s allegation that VECO spent as much as $188,000 working on Stevens’ home, money that Stevens was never billed for and never paid.

But last week, after those records had been entered into evidence, the government — on orders from the judge — turned over to the defense the grand jury testimony of many witnesses, including Anderson, in which he admitted that for much of the fall of 2000, he was not in Alaska at all, but in Portland, Ore.

“The government knew the documents were lies,” the judge said, with obvious frustration in his voice. “Why is it so hard to admit that these records were not truthful records?”

Marsh said that the government viewed the records as demonstrative of the type of expenses that VECO incurred, pointing out that it was clear from witness testimony that there were many more VECO employees working at the house whose time was not included on the records.

But Sullivan said there was no excuse for the government to use records it knew to be false, and he ordered that those records relating to Williams and Anderson be struck. He also said he will tell the jury that the government presented evidence it knew was false.

The judge also challenged the government on its failure to turn over to the defense until Tuesday a copy of a check for $44,000 that Allen had apparently used to pay for a Land Rover that he later gave to Stevens in trade for Stevens’ vintage Mustang and $5,000. The government has alleged that this was a sweetheart deal for Stevens because his Mustang was worth far less than the Land Rover.

The defense spent time on Tuesday challenging Allen’s recollection that the car cost $44,000, including showing the car’s window sticker with a lower price.

After the defense cross examination of Allen, the prosecution produced the check to back up his recollection of the price.

The defense said Wednesday that they believe they had simply overlooked the check in their files, but in fact, they didn’t have it — the prosecution had never provided it.

“It looks like a sandbag, your honor,” complained defense attorney Robert Cary.

Sullivan seemed to agree.

“You chose not to use it and you chose not disclose it,” he said, suggesting that the prosecution only produced the check after the defense had challenged the credibility of Allen’s memory on the value of the car.

Sullivan ruled that as a sanction for failing to turn over the check, all evidence related to the car transaction would be stricken from the record and the jury would be informed that the government had failed to hand over evidence to the defense.

Prior to the judge’s sanctions, prosecutors had spent Wednesday morning showing jurors a string of e-mails, notes and other documents in which Stevens and his friend Bob Persons discussed in detail the renovations that were going on at the Senator’s home in Alaska, ranging from the pouring of concrete and adding a floor to the house to the selection of fixtures for the Jacuzzi.

The government also introduced memos that were periodically prepared by Stevens’ staff for his review and approval detailing expenditures from his various checking accounts, including cable television bills and exterminator fees.

The prosecution is trying to establish that Stevens had a detailed knowledge of both his own personal finances and the progress of the renovations at his home.

Stevens’ defense team has argued that the Senator requested bills for the work, paid the bills he received, and was otherwise unaware of the details of the work at the house and the costs being incurred because his wife was overseeing the project and paying the bills.

During Wednesday’s proceedings, Stevens appeared to be tiring of the ordeal.

As the judge grilled the prosecution that afternoon, Stevens removed the electronic headphones he has used throughout the trial to hear the witnesses and began gazing up at the ceiling. He put the headset back on when the defense returned to the podium.

Several times he removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes.

The prosecution is expected to rest its case today, and the judge will entertain a routine motion from the defense to acquit Stevens on the basis that the government has clearly failed to prove its case.

Assuming the judge denies that motion, the defense will begin calling witnesses. The first witness Stevens’ attorneys have said they intend to call is former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Sara Ditta contributed to this report.