Witness: Stevens’ Friend Said ‘Eat’ $19,000 Bill

Posted October 15, 2008 at 10:42am

A contractor who helped renovate the home of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said the Senator’s friend who was managing the project told him to “eat” a $19,000 invoice for his work that he intended to send to the Senator.

The testimony of carpenter Augie Paone is intended by the defense to highlight the fact that Stevens paid all of the bills that were presented to him, but that his friend prevented the Senator from seeing every bill for the project.

Stevens is on trial facing seven counts of failing to report gifts on his annual financial disclosure forms. The largest portion of these gifts is more than $180,000 worth of renovations that were performed on Stevens’ Girdwood, Alaska, home by employees of the now-defunct oil services firm VECO at the direction of chief executive Bill Allen, a good friend of Stevens’.

Stevens never paid VECO for the work of its employees, but the defense has provided evidence that Stevens and his wife paid Paone about $131,000 for work that he did on the renovation. Paone was a subcontractor brought to the job by Allen.

Paone said that he provided his invoices to Allen, who then forwarded them to the Senator and his wife, and that he received checks from Catherine Stevens for those invoices.

But Paone said that when he sent his final bill, for about $19,000, Allen told him that maybe Paone “should eat this bill or look at it as a political contribution.”

Paone said that he refused and that ultimately his expenses for that work were added to the invoices that he prepared for renovations he was doing at Allen’s own home.

The defense has argued that Stevens paid all the bills that he received for the renovations and asked Allen for any other bills related to the project, but that Allen hid from Stevens the true cost of the work.

The defense has also argued — and Allen admitted on the witness stand — that VECO’s costs were wildly inflated and that the actual value of the renovations was therefore less than VECO’s costs would suggest.

Paone testified Wednesday morning that he realized during the renovations at Stevens’ house that VECO was probably paying thousands of dollars for its work on Stevens’ home and that he was concerned Stevens was not being billed for it. Paone said he told the FBI in 2006, “That particular job was not being run correctly, and I could see how $100,000 could go into it right away.”

He also said that even as he was working on the house in 2000 and 2001, “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.”

Paone acknowledged that some of the work that he did in the Stevens home — installing shelving in the garage, putting tile around the fireplace — was not billed to Stevens, but anyone entering the house would have seen that the work had been done.