Politics & Government

Stevens trial hit with another setback

WASHINGTON — The corruption case against Sen. Ted Stevens suffered a blow to its credibility Wednesday afternoon when a federal judge ruled that prosecutors erred and jurors won't be able to consider some crucial evidence about the time two workers spent renovating his house.

Jurors will be told to disregard evidence they've seen concerning how much time two former Veco Corp. workers, Robert "Rocky" Williams and Dave Anderson, spent remodeling Stevens' home in Girdwood, Alaska, in 2000 and 2001. They'll also be told that prosecutors knew the hours Anderson said he worked could be inaccurate, and yet still presented it to the jury as part of the $188,000 total that Veco accounting records show the now-defunct oilfield-services company spent on the Stevens remodel.

"It's very troubling that the government would utilize records the government knows were false," said Judge Emmet Sullivan said. "And there's just no excuse for that whatsoever."

Judge Sullivan made his ruling Wednesday immediately following a hearing on a motion to throw out the case or declare a mistrial — the fourth such move by Stevens' Washington-based defense team. Prosecutors had just presented their final witness, an FBI agent who walked jurors through dozens of e-mails showing Stevens' awareness of the progress and the extent of the home repairs to his so-called chalet in an Alaska ski town.

Stevens, 84, is on trial for seven counts of filing false statements on the financial disclosure forms he's required to submit each year as a U.S. senator. The Alaska Republican is accused of accepting more than $250,000 in gifts and home repairs, mostly from Veco and its former chief executive, Bill Allen, a former friend of Stevens.

Stevens' legal team, led by Brendan Sullivan, filed its motion late Sunday after they had the opportunity to review more than 300 FBI interview reports and 83 grand jury transcripts the judge ordered government lawyers to turn over.

The defense team got those documents last week after Judge Sullivan ruled prosecutors had dragged their feet on turning over evidence that might be helpful to Stevens' case. That evidence included statements by Allen that he thought Stevens would have paid bills for repairs had he ever been given an invoice.

"This is a criminal case with a career on the line, and the court has responsibilities, the defense has responsibilities, the government has responsibilities," said one of Stevens' lawyers, Robert Cary. "Time and time and time again the government has not lived up to them."

The documents that the defense team received last week typically aren't turned over in their entirety to defendants, but because he was skeptical that the government had turned over everything, Judge Sullivan had prosecutors send the extra documents to Stevens' lawyers nonetheless.

The evidence showed that Anderson testified to a grand jury that he was in Portland, Ore., at the end of 2000, even though he submitted timesheets to Veco for work in Alaska on the Stevens place at the same time.

That chips away at the government claim that Veco spent $188,000 on Stevens' home, Stevens' lawyers argued. The $188,000 figure was one of the first numbers jurors saw, when a Veco bookkeeper testified in excruciating detail in the opening days of the trial about the total expenses the company's records showed had been spent on Stevens' home.

Prosecutors argued that they didn't think the Anderson time was an issue because there was a whole list of tradesmen — many of whom have testified during the trial about the work they did at Stevens' home — whose time wasn't reflected in the spreadsheet explained by the Veco bookkeeper.

"There was a significant amount of time that Veco put in that never got put on that spreadsheet," said Nicholas Marsh of the Justice Department's Public Integrity unit. "There's a ton of Mr. Anderson's time that never got put on that spreadsheet."

But Judge Sullivan was especially incredulous that Marsh sat in on Anderson's grand jury testimony two years ago and heard him say he wasn't in Alaska, and yet still presented the worker's timesheets as accurate to jurors in the opening days of the trial.

"We didn't look at the case that way," Marsh said, as he explained his theory that there were countless hours of work not reflected on the Veco spreadsheet. "I'm being very truthful."

"You closed your eyes then," Judge Sullivan said. "You had to have closed your eyes to that testimony. Someone on that team knew Anderson wasn't in Alaska, he was in Portland. Someone on that team had an obligation to say 'something smells here.'"

Although the judge's ruling leaves the government's case against Stevens intact, jurors will be told to disregard evidence because prosecutors failed in their obligation to disclose crucial information to the defense team.

In addition to the warning about the accounting records, they'll be given a second instruction to disregard all evidence regarding an automobile trade Stevens made with Allen. Judge Sullivan decided to strike that evidence after Stevens' lawyers complained yesterday they were never shown a check that shows Allen paid $44,000 for a Land Rover. The SUV was traded to Stevens, who gave it to his daughter, for the senator's 1964 Mustang and $5,000.

(Mauer reports for the Anchorage Daily News.)

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