WASHINGTON -- Sen. Ted Stevens got something from Veco and the oil services company got something from Alaska's senior Republican senator, according to Tuesday's federal indictment of the veteran senator.
But what Stevens got was not a bribe; it was his failure to report what he got that's the problem, according to the indictment and one of the top Justice Department officials overseeing the case, who spoke to the press Tuesday during a news conference.
"Bribery is not charged in this case," said Matt Friedrich, the acting assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division of the Department of Justice. "Bribery requires proof of a specific agreement of a quid pro quo, of this for that. This indictment does not allege such an agreement."
The indictment lays out numerous examples of things that former Veco chief executive Bill Allen wanted and got from Stevens, such as help landing multimillion dollar, multiyear federal contracts with the National Science Foundation and assistance with international Veco projects in Pakistan and Russia.
The indictment also very carefully lists the things that federal investigators say Stevens received from Veco and Allen -- and then didn't disclose as gifts on the annual forms he's required to file with the Senate detailing his personal finances.
Yet "the indictment does not allege a quid pro quo," Friedrich said.
In other words, what the indictment does not do is say that Allen and Veco gave Stevens those things specifically in exchange for what the company wanted Stevens to obtain for them.
"Bribery and gratuity cases are tough," said Donald Smaltz, a California lawyer who was appointed as an independent counsel to investigate then-Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy for allegations he took gifts from growers who had business with his department. "This makes an easier case for the government."
The federal bribery statutes require prosecutors to show that a public official got something of value in exchange for a specific act that benefits the person who is bribing them, Smaltz said. Federal bribery charges also carry a penalty of up to 15 years in prison -- far stiffer than five years for making false statements. Stevens was charged with seven counts of making false statements on his financial disclosure forms.
Often, secret recordings are the only way to prove outright bribery, said Smaltz, whose prosecution of Espy ended in an acquittal. He points to the infamous Abscam case of the late 1970s, where investigators had videotaped surveillance of elected officials accepting bribes. That was the key to their convictions, Smaltz said.
Another more recent example came in Alaska: the conviction of former Alaska state Rep. Vic Kohring, who was seen on FBI surveillance tapes accepting cash from Bill Allen.
"The only reason the government was able to make those cases, was because they were using undercover tactics and jurors ... were able to see precisely what was said by whom," Smaltz said. "It's very difficult for the defendants to weasel their way out of those cases.
Read Erika Bolstad on our Alaska Politics blog: adn.com/alaskapolitics.
Excerpts from the indictment
"Beginning in or about May 1999, and continuing to in or about August, 2007, in the District of Columbia and elsewhere ... STEVENS, while a sitting United States Senator, knowingly and willfully engaged in a scheme to conceal a material fact, that is, his continuing receipt of hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of things of value from a private corporation and its chief executive officer."
"... STEVENS took multiple steps to conceal his continued receipt of things of value from ALLEN and VECO. During the nearly seven-year period in which STEVENS received multiple things of value from ALLEN and VECO, STEVENS filed and caused to be filed false annual Financial Disclosure Forms for the years 1999 to 2006 that did not report STEVENS' receipt of any thing of value from ALLEN and VECO, either as gifts or as liabilities, as required."
"... STEVENS, while during that same time period that he was concealing his continuing receipt of things of value from ALLEN and VECO from 1999 to 2006, received and accepted solicitations for multiple official actions from ALLEN and other VECO employees."