Stevens Trial Nears Its Finale

Closing Arguments Due Today

Posted October 20, 2008 at 6:40pm

A little after noon on Monday, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) stepped down from the witness stand in his criminal trial and placed his fate in the hands of his defense attorney and 16 strangers who make up the jury.

[IMGCAP(1)]With all of the evidence presented, the government — most likely prosecutor Brenda Morris — will offer its closing argument this morning, followed by Stevens’ attorney Brendan Sullivan. The judge is likely to then dismiss the jury, bringing them back Wednesday to hear his instructions on the relevant legal matters and to begin deliberations.

Stevens stands accused of seven counts of failing to report on his annual financial disclosure forms gifts that he received from 2000 to 2006, including tens of thousands of dollars worth of renovations to his Girdwood, Alaska, home allegedly provided by his friend Bill Allen, former chief executive officer of VECO oil-services company.

Stevens claims that he expected to receive and pay bills for all of the renovations, and that the other things of value he received were not gifts because they did not belong to him.

But Stevens’ appearance in the witness chair Friday and Monday appeared to help solidify the prosecution’s theory of the case, as he struggled to explain how myriad items that appeared in his home were not gifts.

For instance, Stevens does not dispute that the chalet is still furnished with overstuffed chairs and a leather sofa that Allen brought from his condo. The Senator’s wife, Catherine, testified that the furniture was ugly and in poor condition, and she was “a very unhappy person” when she discovered it in her house in late 2001.

Sen. Stevens testified Monday that “Bill Allen stole our furniture and put his furniture in our chalet.”

When Morris asked him why he never called the police, he responded, “It never crossed my mind to call the police at the time. … It might now.”

Stevens also struggled to explain a $2,700 electric massage chair he received in 2001 from Bob Persons, a neighbor and friend of Stevens’ in Alaska.

Persons testified that he meant it as a gift, but Stevens told him he could not accept the chair as a gift — it would have to be a loan.

Stevens said he used the chair when if first arrived because it made it easier to sleep when he was suffering from a bronchial ailment, but he said he no longer uses the chair.

Nevertheless, he admitted that it remains in his home in Washington, D.C. “We have lots of things in our house that don’t belong to us,” Stevens said.

Stevens said he and his wife had planned to send the chair along with a shipment of furniture from their Washington home to Alaska, but couldn’t once Allen brought his furniture into the Girdwood house.

Stevens testified that his wife managed the renovation project in 2000 and 2001, and that he did not see the invoices for that work. The couple did pay about $160,000 to various contractors who worked on the renovation project during that time period.

But he could not explain how additional upgrades were made to the home in 2002 — including a steel staircase and a new front deck — that he neither requested nor ever saw a bill for.

Morris pointed out that it was Allen who was arranging for that construction work, using VECO employees, but Stevens contended that “VECO was not involved in renovating my house.”

The Senator said he believed the employees were on loan from VECO, and that he would be billed for the project when it was complete.

When Stevens received a plumbing bill in January 2006 indicating that Allen had paid for the labor on a boiler repair, it was “the first indication we had that Bill Allen had paid for anything,” the Senator said Monday.

Stevens’ attorneys have managed to narrow the allegations against him as the trial has progressed. For instance, the government originally planned to show that Allen gave Stevens a $44,000 Land Rover in 1999 in exchange for a vintage Ford Mustang convertible and $5,000, an arrangement that prosecutors contend was a sweetheart deal for the Senator.

But as a sanction for failing to turn over evidence to the defense, the judge struck all reference to the car transaction from the case.

That has required the prosecution to remove from the indictment all reference to actions that took place in 1999.

Judge Emmet Sullivan announced Monday that each side will have three hours for closing arguments, with the government’s time split into two 90-minute chunks so prosecutors can speak first and last.

But he warned both sides that he will be very strict about not letting either side speak beyond its allotted time. Four jurors will be dismissed before deliberations begin.