Politics & Government

Prosecution argues against moving Stevens trial to Alaska

WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Stevens' trial should stay in Washington, federal prosecutors insisted in papers filed Monday, arguing that hearing it in Alaska while the 84-year-old Republican campaigns for reelection could taint the home state jury pool.

They also argued that, fundamentally, the case against Stevens is based in the nation's capital. He faces seven felony counts of knowingly taking home repairs and gifts worth more than $250,000 from the oil services company Veco Corp. and failing to report them on his annual U.S. Senate disclosure forms from 2001 through 2006.

"Simply put, this is a case about a scheme to conceal, largely through the submission of false financial disclosure forms to the United States Senate," Justice Department prosecutors wrote in a motion filed Monday afternoon. The financial disclosure forms were "created, reviewed, signed and filed in the District of Columbia, and a substantial portion of Stevens' scheme to conceal occurred in or around the District of Columbia."

U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan is scheduled to hear the change-of-venue motion Aug. 20. Last week in court, Sullivan promised the trial would be "fast but ... fair," to accommodate Stevens' election schedule, and said he hasn't prejudged the senator's request to move it to Alaska. But Sullivan already has made plans to begin jury selection in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 22. The trial itself is set to begin two days later.

Stevens' lawyers have argued that most of the witnesses in the case are in Alaska. They also argued that jurors should see Stevens' Girdwood home, where Veco employees, including CEO Bill Allen, oversaw renovations in 2000 that doubled it in size.

Mostly, though, his lawyers said last week they're concerned that Stevens be able to continue campaigning before and during the trial. Stevens, who has held the office since 1968, faces six Republican challengers in the Aug. 26 primary before moving on to the Nov. 4 general election.

Last week, his lawyers said that if the trial remains in Washington, he would have "a minimal opportunity to personally participate in the electoral process that will decide his professional future."

But prosecutors said Monday that was a "substantial factor weighing heavily against transfer."

Since his July 31 arraignment, the senator has been traveling all over Alaska and participating in campaign rallies where he has "vocally proclaimed his innocence of the crimes charged against him," prosecutors wrote in their motion.

Those claims have been widely reported in the media, prosecutors said, and it's likely that Stevens will "continue to offer explanations and characterizations of the factual and legal issues in the case."

That has consequences, prosecutors argued, especially if Stevens continues to campaign during the trial. It has potential to taint the jury pool, but also could require that they be sequestered and barred from TV, radio and newspapers during the trial. Apart from the trial, that could limit jurors' participation in the 2008 electoral process as well, prosecutors argued.

They also downplayed the concerns Stevens' lawyers have expressed about transferring witnesses and evidence from Alaska to Washington, D.C.

Witnesses can easily travel to Washington, D.C., the prosecutors argued, and nearly all of the evidence "will be rendered in an electronic format." There are 42 boxes of materials provided by Stevens to the government, the motion noted, but those are in Washington.

For the same reasons, there's no need for a jury to see the house, prosecutors said. For one, the evidence will include more than 1,000 high-resolution digital photos of both the interior and exterior, they said in their motion.

"The Girdwood residence is not the 'scene of the crimes,' but is rather merely the subject of some, but not all, of the defendant's false statements," prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors added that the precise value of the benefits Stevens is accused of receiving will not be the predominant issue at trial. Instead, it will be "whether Stevens knew he received more than $250 in benefits from a source that he did not repay."

Prosecutors cite several other reasons for keeping the trial in Washington, D.C.:

-- Stevens also is accused of failing to disclose that he traded his vintage Ford Mustang and $5,000 to Allen in 1999 for a new Land Rover Discovery worth about $44,000. The trade for Allen's Land Rover involved correspondence and financial instruments sent from Washington, prosecutors said. And ultimately, Stevens' 1964 Mustang was also shipped from Washington, they pointed out.

-- Much of the correspondence concerning renovations at Stevens' Girdwood home, including the transmission of architectural drawings, e-mails and handwritten notes, was sent from Washington, prosecutors said.

-- Although Stevens is not charged with bribery, the indictment against him details how Veco asked for assistance with federal matters and how Stevens helped the company. It also lays out how Stevens received things of value from Veco and failed to disclose them. In their motion, prosecutors said the requests for official acts that were made of Stevens involved written correspondence and were sent to addresses and computer servers in Washington.

-- Prosecutors also pointed out that all three of the U.S. District Court judges in Alaska were nominated and confirmed by the U.S. Senate while Stevens was the senior senator from Alaska. Typically, a senior senator from a state suggests -- or even endorses -- judges and other federal appointees.

-- Finally, prosecutors also argued that Stevens actually lives in Washington, D.C.:

"Although Stevens maintains a residence in Alaska, there can be no legitimate dispute that for all practical purposes, (he) lives and works in the District of Columbia. His spouse is an attorney at a law firm in the District of Columbia, and the family owns a personal residence in the District of Columbia."

Prosecutors wrote that if the trial is in Washington, D.C., Stevens will "be able to maintain close contact with his Senate office, and continue to live in his own home."

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