News

House at the heart of Stevens case is still a fixer-upper

Henry Tomingas, who lives next door to Ted Stevens' home in Girdwood, talks about the controversy that surrounds a construction project there.
Henry Tomingas, who lives next door to Ted Stevens' home in Girdwood, talks about the controversy that surrounds a construction project there. Mark Lester / Anchorage Daily News

GIRDWOOD — At the heart of the federal case against U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens is a modest, two-story house on a narrow dirt street.

Nothing fancy here. The paint is peeling on the wraparound deck. The gravelly yard is overgrown with weeds. There's only a single car-garage at the Stevens home on Northland Road, his official Alaska residence.

Some features are quirky, such as the plastic sheeting below the second-floor deck, to keep rain off the porch below. Or the matching white doors, one on the ground floor, one directly above.

"It's nothing spectacular, inside or out," said longtime neighbor Julie Pederson.

Stevens spends much more time in his Washington, D.C., area residence, a 1989 townhome in a gated community near Georgetown that property assessors valued at $1.3 million this year.

Federal prosecutors accuse Stevens of accepting "things of value" from Veco Corp. and chief executive Bill Allen amounting to more than $250,000, most of it to renovate the Northland Road home.

Catherine and Ted Stevens bought it in 1983 when it was a small, one-floor chalet. The remodel, which prosecutors say began in 2000 and continued with maintenance until 2006, doubled the size of the dwelling. It was jacked up so a new first floor could be added. There was new plumbing, new wiring and the garage addition.

This year, the 2,471-square-foot house was valued for property tax purposes at $460,400 by the Anchorage assessor.

After Stevens' indictment this week, Pederson's daughters, Makena, 10, and Amara, 7, made posters and hung them on the rail at the senator's house to show their support for the man they know as "Uncle Ted" or just "Ted." When he's home, they bake him cookies.

"Ted Stevens for Senate," Makena's sign says in rainbow letters with an American flag for accent.

"I believe him at his word," Pederson said. "He says he's innocent."

'GO AWAY, GAWKERS'

A year ago Wednesday, federal agents raided the Stevens house. Curious people who have driven down their quiet street since then see the house for what it is, she said, "a very casual, modest Girdwood home." Many snap photos. Her children shout "Go away, gawkers."

One man, who said he was from CNN, asked whether the Stevens house was abandoned, Pederson said.

Henry Tomingas, whose home office is next door to the Stevens place, said the remodel doesn't support a federal indictment no matter who did the work or who paid.

"I wouldn't call that fixed up," Tomingas said, strolling over and pointing out various design flaws of Stevens' house.

Tomingas, who's lived or worked there since 1972, said he never saw Veco trucks or big crews working on the renovation, just a "van with a couple of guys in it, and they did a bunch of crummy work."

Before the project began, he said, Bob Persons, owner of the famed Double Musky Inn restaurant in Girdwood, stopped by and told him about an idea to help the senator.

"He just said 'A bunch of us are fixing up Ted's place a little bit,' and asked me if I could pick up my yard a little bit and stuff and make it a little nicer for Ted, you know, because of all his years of service and stuff," Tomingas said.

Stevens was getting older and needed help just keeping the place up, the neighbor said.

"I was told it was like a gift," he said.

Before the remodel, Tomingas said he shoveled snow at times off the roof of a lean-to at the Stevens place.

After Persons came by, Tomingas said he did haul away old building materials from his place.

'WHEN HE'S IN HIS 80s ...'

Stevens gave Persons authority to act as his local representative for the construction project, according to a letter the senator faxed to the Anchorage building permit office in July 2000.

Persons did not respond Wednesday and Thursday to requests for comment. The two are close. A Stevens 2008 bumper sticker is plastered on the back door of the Double Musky. Stevens wrote the foreword to the Double Musky cookbook.

Tomingas said he doesn't remember Persons describing the scope of the project, or specifying who the group included.

He said he knows little firsthand. He's talked to Stevens maybe once in 10 years; he figures the senator wants his privacy when he's home. Tomingas said he was questioned by the FBI after the search of Stevens' house last summer.

In 2000, the state was wild with support for Stevens. He was named Alaskan of the Century in January and the Anchorage airport was renamed for him in July.

Stevens, appointed to his Senate seat in 1968, now is seeking his seventh full term.

"Everyone should remember the 30 years of service that was provided and not the ticky-tacky work that was done on this house," Tomingas said. "I think that's terrible for somebody to put in that much for the state and people couldn't come over and fix the place up when he's in his 80s or something like that."

Related stories from McClatchy DC

  Comments