Stevens and Wife to Make Case Today

Posted October 15, 2008 at 6:48pm

The criminal trial of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) will boil down to a family affair today, as the Senator and his wife are scheduled to testify as the last two witnesses called in his defense.

[IMGCAP(1)]Stevens has been charged with seven counts of failing to report gifts on his annual financial disclosure forms. The government alleges that Stevens accepted about $250,000 worth of home renovations and other gifts from his friends, including about $188,000 worth of renovations from Bill Allen, chief executive officer of the oil services company VECO.

Stevens’ attorneys have argued that Catherine Stevens paid the bills for the renovations and was present at the home much more regularly than Ted Stevens; the Senator, they argue, did not know how much work was being done at the house and how much it all should have cost.

Stevens is under no obligation to testify in his own defense, but his lawyers told the judge Wednesday that he plans to do so.

During the trial’s lunch break, Stevens sat in the witness chair for a sound check. He tested the court’s television monitor system to make sure he would be able to see exhibits displayed there, and his attorney tested the microphones to make sure the Senator could hear.

Stevens’ daughter Susan Stevens Covich appeared as a defense witness Tuesday, testifying that between 2002 and 2004, she frequently slept at her father’s house in Girdwood because she was traveling to and from Anchorage for school and to help care for a sick friend. She said that on several of these trips, she stopped at the Girdwood house in the evening and found Allen sleeping there and other bedrooms occupied.

Covich said that on several occasions when she arrived at the house “there were lights on and cars in the parking lot … and it just got too creepy,” so she drove to a hotel instead.

On Wednesday, a friend of the Senator’s admitted that after he was subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury in May 2007 about the renovation project, he told the Senator about his subpoena and met with him to discuss those issues before he testified.

Bob Persons, a friend and neighbor of Stevens who monitored the renovations of Stevens’ home, said Wednesday that a few days before his grand jury appearance, he met with Stevens to discuss a tool set that was in the Senator’s home, a generator that had been installed in the house and other issues.

The government has provided evidence that VECO paid for the generator and gave Stevens a new and fully equipped tool kit, gifts that Stevens did not declare and did not pay for.

Under cross-examination by prosecutor Nicholas Marsh, Persons acknowledged that just before his grand jury appearance, Stevens told him that Allen had left the tools and installed a generator but that the Senator hadn’t wanted them.

But “the Senator never told you he paid Bill Allen back?” Marsh said.

“No,” Persons replied.

Stevens has filed a motion to strike from the case all evidence regarding the generator, but the judge has yet to rule on it.

Stevens was not at the home regularly while the renovations were going on, so he gave power of attorney to Persons to complete the permit application for the remodeling.

The permit documents, introduced as evidence, indicated that the cost of the renovation would be just under $85,000.

The defense introduced copies of checks written by Catherine Stevens to a carpenter named Augie Paone for about $131,000 for finish work inside the home, and another $30,000 in checks to other contractors for raising the house, removing an overhanging tree and doing some excavation at the site.

The government alleges that Allen billed VECO for another $188,000 worth of renovations, including hundreds of hours of staff time and materials that were billed to the company.

If those allegations are correct, it would mean that it cost more than $300,000 to renovate a home that the Anchorage assessor’s office estimated was worth just under $200,000 when it was completed.

That would underscore the defense contention that VECO was providing little of value to the Senator.

Several defense witnesses have conceded that Stevens must have known that VECO was providing work at the site, and that the Senator was not reimbursing the company.

Paone acknowledged that shortly after the renovation was completed in 2001, he returned to Stevens’ house to install some tile around the fireplace and to build shelves in the garage.

Paone said “that was a VECO check” that paid for that work, and the work would have been readily apparent to anyone entering the garage.

Paone also said that at the time of the renovations, “I was concerned that the Senator wasn’t getting billed for some of this stuff, and I was concerned that something like this [the criminal trial] would happen.”

But Paone said he never raised these concerns to either Catherine or Ted Stevens.

While Persons’ memory flickered as he discussed the renovations and his various appearances before the grand jury and FBI interviewers, he was clear that he had never told Allen that Stevens didn’t intend to pay for the renovations.

In some of the most explosive testimony of the trial, Allen testified two weeks ago that when Stevens told him that he needed invoices for the work VECO was doing on the house, Persons told him “don’t worry about getting a bill. Ted’s just worried about covering his ass.”

Asked Wednesday whether he had said that to Allen, Persons replied, “No!” and then added under his breath, “Crazy.”

Persons said he had never been asked about that comment when he testified before the grand jury, and the FBI had never asked him about it in three interviews. “Nobody’s ever asked me that question before,” Persons said.

However, Persons admitted that he knew that Allen was trying to hide some costs of the renovation from Stevens.