Politics & Government

Stevens, former Veco chief did favors for each other

WASHINGTON — At its heart, the relationship between Sen. Ted Stevens and the chief of one of Alaska's largest private employers was symbiotic and relatively uncomplicated, federal prosecutors continued to demonstrate Wednesday.

When Stevens needed help around the house, he could rely on his friend, Bill Allen, CEO of the oil services company Veco Corp. When Allen needed federal help for his company, he contacted Stevens -- at the time one of the most powerful men in the U.S. Senate.

Taking the stand for a second day, Allen testified about gifts and assistance with home renovations he had offered his longtime friend in recent years.

Allen, the star witness in the corruption case against Stevens, was asked time and time again: Did Stevens paid for any of the work done by Veco? Did Stevens pay for the electrical work, the plumbing? Did he pay to move the generator? Did he pay for the lower level deck? How about the electrical tape system that melted ice off the roof?

"Who did that work?" asked prosecutor Joe Bottini.

"Veco electricians," Allen said.

"Who paid for the materials?" Bottini asked.

"Veco," Allen said.

Bottini asked whether Stevens ever sought a bill for the work that had been done in 2002. Allen hesitated for a few moments.

"I don't think so," he said slowly.

Stevens, 84, faces seven felony counts of making false statements on his Senate financial disclosure forms. The Alaska Republican is accused of hiding more than $250,000 of gifts from Allen and others, chiefly home improvements that helped double his home in size.

Testimony will continue Thursday, with prosecutors playing about 30 minutes of secretly recorded telephone conversations between Allen and Stevens. Allen pleaded guilty in 2007 to bribing state lawmakers in Alaska. He told jurors that he agreed to cooperate with the investigation in exchange for leniency in his own sentencing and the promise that his children wouldn't be prosecuted.

Wednesday, prosecutors also had Allen detail some of the assistance Stevens had given Veco over the years.

Before they began, jurors were warned that Stevens is accused of making false statements on disclosure forms and not charged with anything connected to official acts as a senator. However, those acts -- such as corresponding with constituents -- may be considered as motive or intent for the crimes in the indictment, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said.

In 1999, Allen testified, Veco was not getting its share of a dividend on a pipeline investment in Pakistan and needed help. Allen asked Stevens to make some inquiries with the World Bank, which also had some interest in the project.

Stevens faxed Allen a note on Sept. 20, 1999, attaching the letter he had sent to the bank's president, Jim Wolfensohn: "I've just sent this letter to the World Bank. We'll keep you informed."

The problem was resolved and the money started flowing to Veco, Allen said.

In 2006, when state lawmakers were considering a potential tax on producers who would be using a proposed natural gas pipeline, Allen testified that he asked Stevens for help twisting the arms of reluctant state lawmakers who thought the proposed tax rate was too low.

"Ben is the only one who understands how to get this done," Allen wrote in an e-mail to Stevens, referring to Stevens' son, Ben, then the president of the Alaska Senate. Allen asked the senior Stevens to speak to state Sen. Gene Therriault, a Republican who wasn't on board with the plan.

"I will meet with Therriault and his crowd at six tonight," Stevens wrote back in an e-mail to Allen. "Spoke to them this AM -- don't think they are willing to listen."

Allen testified Wednesday that was unaware until later in the summer of 2006 that he was already under investigation by the FBI for bribery at the time he sent the e-mail.

Bottini on Wednesday also had Allen read thank-you notes and other correspondence, including portions of a note Stevens sent him in October 2002, thanking Allen for his work on "the chalet."

In the note, Stevens told him not to be "P.O.'d," but said that he needed to have a conversation with one of Stevens' neighbors in Girdwood, Bob Persons, a close friend of both who helped oversee the renovation of the senator's home. It "has to be done right," Stevens wrote.

"You owe me a bill," the letter from Stevens said. "Remember Torricelli, my friend. Friendship is one thing, compliance with the ethics rules entirely different."

Allen said on the stand he was unaware at the time what Stevens meant by "Torricelli." But Stevens was apparently referring to former Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., who in 2002 was investigated by the Justice Department for accepting improper gifts from a donor. The investigation closed, but the Senate Ethics Committee reviewed the Justice Department files and issued a public letter of admonishment to Torricelli, who then abandoned a re-election bid and left the Senate.

Allen said he didn't send Stevens a bill or invoice after the note, but as promised in the letter, he did have a conversation with Persons. Allen testified that Persons told him, "Don't worry about getting a bill, Ted's just covering his ass."

Realizing such language might not be appropriate for the courtroom, Allen added, "maybe I shouldn't say that," which elicited chuckles from the jurors.

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