WASHINGTON — Even as Veco Corp. was paying the bills for renovations on Sen. Ted Stevens home in Alaska, the oil services company covered up the nature of the work in its own internal books, the corporate bookkeeper testified Friday.
Veco bookkeeper Cheryl Boomershine testified that when she asked for an explanation for a $2,000 handwritten expense claim from the construction foreman, an attached note came back with the instructions that there should be no written records.
The orders "no paper trail" were per Bill Allen, the company's chief executive officer, Boomershine said, and they were written on the back of the expense form submitted in connection with the 2000 renovation of Stevens' home.
Boomershine also said that the company assigned some costs to an account called "Girdwood Consultants." One of the consultants, she testified, was a plumber.
There's also no record that Stevens or his wife, Catherine, ever reimbursed the company for any construction costs for the projects that began in 1999, Boomershine said. Veco kept copies of deposits to its bank account, Boomershine testified, and the only checks that ever came in were reimbursements for two charter flights originally paid for by Veco.
Tradesmen who renovated Stevens' home in Alaska in 2000 testified Friday about their work, as prosecutors began building a case that the Alaska Republican never paid Veco for electrical and carpentry work on the so-called "chalet."
Allen, who already has pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers in Alaska, is expected to testify Monday. Allen's testimony and secret recordings of conversations between him and Stevens are expected to be the strongest evidence in the government case against the senator.
The trial, which had been expected to take four weeks, is moving so fast that prosecutors might finish their case in eight days. They sped through so many witnesses Friday that they had to scramble to schedule people to testify next week.
On Friday, a series of electricians and carpenters described in detail how they jacked up the home in Girdwood, Alaska, and installed a lower story, and redid the electrical wiring. In some cases, employees for Veco Corp. — whose executives were for years the leading campaign contributors to many Alaska political candidates, including Stevens — spent hundreds of hours devoted to work on the senator's home.
Stevens faces seven felony counts of lying on his Senate financial-disclosure forms. The 84-year-old senator is accused of accepting more than $250,000 in gifts from the now-defunct oilfield services company and Allen. Among the gifts Stevens is accused of accepting are renovations to his Girdwood home that lifted it from its foundation and added a lower story, doubling it in size.
Some Veco employees spent months at the Stevens home, according to testimony. Beginning in October 2000, Roy Dettmer of Littleton, Colo., spent four months working six days a week, 10 hours a day, installing electric service in the new sections of the house and rewiring much of the old.
Every morning, he'd drive to the Port of Anchorage, where he was assigned to work, sign in using his badge, then drive 45 miles to Girdwood. In the evening, he would have to "badge out" again back at the port before he could go to his hotel. Dettmer's pay at Veco at the time was between $27 and $29 an hour, plus overtime. Working a schedule of six weeks on, two off, Dettmer said he spent about 400 hours on the project.
Dettmer said he never met Stevens, but Catherine Stevens came around once. The Veco supervisor, Rocky Williams, introduced him.
"We said 'Hi,' and that was it," Dettmer said.
Doug Alke, a Veco electrician, described installing a backup generator at the residence in the fall of 1999, the year before the renovations that doubled the Stevens home in size.
Alke estimated that he spent an estimated 20 to 24 hours on the job, including coming back a few days after he and another Veco worker installed the generator to check on whether it was cutting on automatically each week to recharge the batteries.
The journeyman electrician, who was paid about $19.50 an hour at the time, said he filled out an "overhead number" on his timesheet, a code that described which client the work should be billed to. The number for the Stevens job wasn't for a specific client like other jobs were, Alke said. Instead, it was an internal code used for what he assumed were accounting purposes, he said.
Catherine Stevens stopped by once to bring workers muffins, said another contractor, Mike Luther, a carpenter with Christensen Builders of Anchorage. He also saw Sen. Stevens once, saying he was friendly and "talked to everyone."
On his way out of the courtroom Friday, Luther waved to Stevens as he walked past the senator at the defense table.
Alaska might be a very distant place for many of the jurors, but Gov. Sarah Palin's vice presidential candidacy has made it more familiar than it once was. When Alke told the jury he was from her hometown of Wasilla, a murmur of recognition shot through the courtroom.
Stevens, who has held office since 1968 and is the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, is in a tight re-election contest with his Democratic opponent, Mark Begich, the mayor of Anchorage.
McClatchy Newspapers 2008