Stevens Found Guilty on All 7 Counts

Posted October 27, 2008 at 7:27pm

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens (R) remained resolute Monday afternoon even as a federal jury declared him guilty on seven counts of filing false financial statements to conceal gifts worth more than $250,000.

“It’s not over yet,” Stevens said, grabbing his daughter Beth by the arm and exiting the courtroom flanked by bodyguards and his defense team.

[IMGCAP(1)]The Alaska Senator is scheduled to return to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Feb. 25, when Judge Emmet Sullivan will hear any outstanding motions and set a sentencing date.

The Republican’s trial ended Monday, after six weeks in court that included scores of photos of his Girdwood, Alaska, home; audiotape conversations; letters to and from the Senator and testimony from a cast of Alaska workers, Stevens’ friends and family, and the lawmaker himself.

As the 12-member jury’s foreman read the verdict Monday — a unanimous guilty verdict that could carry a sentence of up to five years on each count — Stevens’ head hung down.

Afterward in the courthouse hallway, Stevens was surrounded by his defense team, as lead attorney Brendan Sullivan kept one hand on Stevens’ shoulder.

Neither Stevens nor his attorneys answered questions about a possible appeal, whether he will resign his Senate seat or the future of his re-election campaign.

“I’m going home from here,” Stevens said as he exited an elevator on his way to a van parked at the courthouse curb.

Inside the van, Stevens slouched on the far side of the vehicle’s first bench, while a camera lens outside pressed up against the tinted glass over his left shoulder.

In the meantime, as lead federal prosecutor Brenda Morris walked across the courthouse’s fourth floor after the verdict, a half-dozen of her colleagues reached out to shake her hand and pat her on the back.

Morris and a Justice Department spokeswoman did not comment on the case before entering a courthouse office.

As the door closed, however, the diminutive prosecutor could be seen celebrating as she stood on tiptoe to accept bear hugs from her colleagues.

“This has been a long and hard-fought trial,” Matthew Friedrich, acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said at a press conference after the verdict.

Despite the apparent celebration in the wake of the verdict, the prosecution suffered many setbacks throughout the trial, and by Monday afternoon the case had appeared to be in jeopardy.

In a note to the judge, the jury pointed out that there was an error in the indictment.

The indictment says that on his 2001 financial disclosure form, the Senator made a false statement when he checked the “no” box next to the question, “Did you, your spouse or dependent child receive any reportable gift in the reporting period?”

But Stevens did not check “no”; he checked “yes.”

The indictment goes on to say Stevens did not file the attachment on which gifts are reported, but he did. His disclosure form for that year includes a gift roster with one entry, disclosing a commemorative Special Olympics coin worth $1,100 in honor of Stevens’ service as honorary chairman of the 2000 Olympic Games.

A little before noon, the jury sent a question to Judge Sullivan noting that Stevens’ 2001 disclosure form has the gift question “checked as yes. On the indictment it says he checked no. These items do not correspond. What do we do?”

Prosecutor Nicholas Marsh suggested that the erroneous language in the indictment was simply “a typo,” which did not affect the underlying premise of the charges — that Stevens accepted tens of thousands of dollars worth of gifts from his friends, particularly major renovations of his home conducted by employees of the now-defunct oil services firm VECO and its Chief Executive Officer Bill Allen.

The jury began deliberations Wednesday but took Friday off after one member of the panel left for California when her father died unexpectedly. On Monday, Sullivan impaneled an alternate juror and told the group that they would have to start their deliberations over, but he left it up to them to determine what that meant.

The error in the indictment was just one in a series of mistakes that the prosecution made, all potentially avenues for Stevens’ defense team to argue for an appeal of the Senator’s conviction.

Stevens’ campaign issued a press release Monday night saying Stevens vowed to fight the verdict, which was based on “repeated instances of prosecutorial misconduct.”

During the trial, prosecutors were forced to admit that they had failed to hand over to Stevens’ lawyers an FBI summary of an interview in which Allen suggested that if he had sent bills to Stevens for the renovations of his home, Stevens would have paid them.

Judge Sullivan said he was particularly concerned that the government had previously provided the defense with a version of the same document with the exculpatory words blacked out. “How does the court have any confidence that the Public Integrity Section has any integrity?” he asked

Morris replied that the redaction had been a mistake, and she admitted that it was poor judgment on the part of someone at the Justice Department.

Morris also told the judge that her team had reported themselves to the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility for investigation of a possible violation of their evidentiary obligations.

The judge also ruled that the government had presented to the jury evidence that it knew to be false regarding the amount of time VECO employees spent working at Stevens’ home. Sullivan ordered that evidence stricken from the record.

In addition, the indictment originally alleged that in 1999, Allen gave the Senator a new $44,000 Land Rover for Stevens’ 1964 Mustang convertible and $5,000, despite the fact that the Land Rover was “worth far more” than the Mustang.

But in cross-examining Allen, the prosecution presented the check that Allen had used to buy the car, a document that the defense had never seen.

Judge Sullivan struck from the case all evidence relating to the car transaction.

It remains to be seen whether the Senate Ethics Committee will initiate a preliminary investigation of Stevens.

Under Senate ethics rules, evidence of criminal activity — in the media or in a complaint to the panel — may prompt the panel to execute a “preliminary inquiry” to determine whether a violation of the chamber’s rules has occurred.

But Stevens faces a tough re-election fight against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D), and if he loses his seat, it is unlikely the Senate would begin an inquiry with less than two months remaining in the 110th Congress.

Should Stevens return for the scheduled lame-duck session, however, he will not be prohibited from voting.

Unlike in the House, where rules bar Members convicted of a felony offense from voting, there is no similar rule in the Senate.

Jennifer Yachnin contributed to this report.