Stevens Denies Scheme to Conceal Gifts

Posted October 16, 2008 at 4:23pm

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) took the witness stand in his criminal trial Thursday afternoon and denied that he ever intended to file false financial disclosure forms.

Appearing as the last witness in his defense against seven counts of filing false disclosure forms, Stevens said he did not engage in a scheme to conceal gifts he received, as alleged in the government’s indictment.

“When you signed those forms, did you believe they were accurate and truthful?” Stevens’ attorney Brendan Sullivan asked.

“Yes, sir,” Stevens replied.

“Did you ever intentionally file false statements?” Sullivan continued.

“No, I did not.”

Sullivan then led Stevens on an overview of his biography for about 20 minutes before the judge adjourned the trial for the day.

Stevens will return to the stand on Friday and is likely to testify for several hours.

The government alleges that Stevens accepted tens of thousands of dollars in gifts, including about $188,000 in home renovations paid for by oil-services company VECO and its then-CEO Bill Allen. Stevens did not pay VECO for its work on the house and did not report the renovations, or other gifts, on his annual disclosure forms.

Stevens followed his wife, Catherine, to the witness stand.

She testified that she was in charge of the 2000-01 renovations at their Alaska home, and that she believed all the workers on the job were employed by the carpentry company she hired as the general contractor on the project.

Catherine and Ted Stevens did not appear to make eye contact during her testimony, and the Senator sat still during her appearance, which took several hours.

Catherine Stevens testified that she was unhappy with much of the work at the house, including the steel stairs and deck on the back of the house, which earlier witnesses testified were built by VECO employees, using materials provided by the company.

But prosecutor Brenda Morris pointed out that Mrs. Stevens never contacted any of the contractors to ask them to remove the offending items. Catherine Stevens also admitted that she never hired a contractor to build the deck on the front of the house, never got a bill for that work and was never certain who had done that work.

She also admitted that Senate staff members handled personal finances for the couple, including paying her credit card bills and balancing their joint checking account.

The charges against the Senator do not include allegations that he used his Senate staff to perform personal tasks.

Under Morris’ cross-examination, Catherine Stevens acknowledged that Barbara Flanders, a staff member in the Senators’ personal office, was a third signatory on the Stevens’ joint Senate Federal Credit Union bank account. Flanders regularly paid personal bills on that account, including Catherine Stevens bills from Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue, the Senator’s wife said.

In 2001 and 2002, Flanders was paid about $50,000 as a staff assistant in Stevens’ personal office, according to records maintained by the Web site Legistorm. Members of Congress are not allowed to have staff work on personal matters.

Catherine Stevens also acknowledged that when she purchased knobs and cabinet hardware from a store in Washington, D.C., she gave the materials to Flanders to ship to a VECO address in Alaska.

Earlier in the day, she had testified that she did not know that workers on the site were being paid by VECO.

Before he took the stand, Judge Emmet Sullivan told Stevens that he was under no obligation to testify, but the Senator said it was “a privilege and a duty” to do so.

After his testimony, Stevens appeared relaxed, chatting with family and friends in the public galley and discussing plans to get together after the election.

Shira Toeplitz contributed to this report.