Stevens guilty: 'It's not over yet,' he says

October 27, 2008 

WASHINGTON — A federal jury on Monday convicted U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens on all seven counts of lying on his financial disclosures, a crippling blow not just to his election chances next week but to his legacy as Alaska’s longest serving and most accomplished living politician.

Stevens also risks jail time. The seven felonies each carry a penalty of five years in prison, though it’s unlikely a significant prison sentence, if any, would be imposed on an 84-year-old, first-time offender with a long record of public service and a longer list of character references.

"It’s not over yet!" Stevens said angrily to his wife as he walked from the courtroom Monday afternoon.

"You’ve got that right," Catherine Stevens replied as she reached for him through the crowd of supporters rushing past reporters for the door.

"Not over yet," Stevens said.

Neither he nor his lawyers talked to reporters as he left the courthouse and climbed into a waiting white van amid a throng of cameras.

He later issued a statement maintaining his innocence and saying he will continue to fight the charges and accusing prosecutors of misconduct. He remains a candidate for office, he said. Neither his Senate office nor his campaign responded to an e-mail request for an interview.

Stevens is by far the highest profile defendant among nine legislators, businessmen, lobbyists and an state administration official to have been convicted in the massive FBI investigation of corruption in Alaska. Two other legislators await trial in Anchorage.

"This investigation continues, as does our commitment to holding elected officials accountable when they violate our laws," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Matt Friedrich, reading a statement on the courthouse steps after the verdict.

Among those still under investigation are Stevens’ son Ben, a former president of the Alaska senate, and U.S. Rep. Don Young, who’s standing for election Tuesday with Stevens.

Stevens’ defense team has until Dec. 5 to file motions for a new trial and other relief from Judge Emmet Sullivan, who set a hearing date of Feb. 25. Sullivan indefinitely postponed sentencing.

UNREPORTED GIFTS

In convicting Stevens, the jury had to unanimously decide he lied on his financial disclosure by not reporting gifts and benefits.

Though the jurors heard character witnesses for Stevens, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, none started out with the kind of knowledge of Stevens that most Alaskans could recite: his long history of securing federal money for his homestate, of supporting Alaska’s military bases and Native institutions, his connections to fisheries and the trans-Alaska pipeline, or that "Ted Stevens" is part of the name of the biggest international airport in Alaska, the marine research center in Juneau and the science education center in Kenai.

The judge relayed a message from the jurors that they would not consent to interviews. Their identities were never disclosed in open court and they left the courthouse while Sullivan’s court was still in session after the verdict.

The Stevenses were the two final witnesses in a trial that began with jury selection on Sept. 22. Fifty other witnesses testified, many of them from the now defunct oil-field service company Veco. They told of being directed to perform renovations and repairs on Stevens’ official residence in Girdwood, turning the modest green A-frame with a loft into a five-bedroom retreat with a new garage and kitchen.

In all, the government said Veco and its chief executive, Bill Allen, provided Stevens with some $250,000 in services, gifts, furnishings and other benefits. Two other friends of Stevens — Bob Penney, the real estate developer and sport fish advocate, and Bob Persons, the owner of Girdwood’s Double Musky restaurant — also provided gifts of a $1,000 dog, a $3,200 stained glass window and a $2,700 chair that Stevens didn’t disclose, according to evidence in the case.

Stevens and his defense challenged those dollar values on multiple fronts. Stevens said he didn’t know that Veco provided a dime’s worth of work, and he disputed that any of the gifts were actually his to own, even though they were in his homes in Girdwood and Washington — often for years.

But Senate rules provide a low threshold for reporting gifts — from $260 in 2000 to $305 in 2006 — making it easier for the jury to decide than it might have been if the Senate values were much higher.

For instance, the jury didn’t have to determine to the penny the validity of Veco’s accounting that the house renovations cost the company $82,000 in 2000 and another $110,000 in 2001. Those were the numbers initially entered into evidence early in the trial, but were later shown to be significantly flawed even before the government rested its case.

Whatever the actual number was for the renovations, the evidence was overwhelming it was more than $260.

Under the law, any gift over the threshold amount had to be listed. Yet Stevens’ forms never showed anything from Veco, Allen, Penney or Persons.

‘NOT A TYPOGRAPHICAL ERROR’

The jury began deliberations for the day about 9:30 a.m. It was the start of the third day of deliberations for all but Juror 11, an alternate who had just taken the place of another juror who left to attend her father’s funeral in California. The judge instructed the jury that they would have to restart their deliberations to accommodate their newest member, a prolific note-taker during the trial who runs a Web site for her church.

Late morning, the jury sent out a note with a "significant question." It turned out they had discovered an error in the indictment that had gotten though the prosecution team, the grand jury, two months of pre-trial wrangling by both sides and a month’s worth of trial. None of the 25 or so journalists regularly covering the case noticed it, either.

The issue involved Count 2 and its reference to the fifth set of checkboxes on the front page of Stevens’ 2001 report. It was there that Stevens was supposed to check whether he received more than $260 in reportable gifts that year.

The indictment said Stevens checked "No." But the jury discovered from looking at the actual disclosure that Stevens checked "Yes."

They wanted to know how to deal with that discrepancy.

With the jury waiting in their room for an answer, the embarrassed prosecution team said the error in the indictment could be considered a typo, but in any case wasn’t significant. The gift Stevens listed in his back-up schedule was a $1,100 gold coin struck to commemorate his honorary chairmanship of the Special Olympics winter games in Anchorage that year. There was nothing in the schedule from Veco, Allen, Persons or Penney, as charged in the indictment.

The defense said that if the jury found there was no proof that Stevens had checked "No," that might be reason enough for a not guilty verdict.

The judge decided to send an instruction to the jury that the indictment is not evidence — only the disclosure document itself was. The implication was that the jury could ignore the error.

As for the prosecution, Sullivan was displeased.

"Presumably someone reads these before they are submitted on the docket — it’s not a typographical error," he said.

On the other hand, he had high praise for the sharp-eyed jury. By then, the jurors were taking lunch. Unknown to anyone in the courtroom, they were also nearing a verdict.

‘GUILTY’

Shortly after 3 p.m. Washington time (11 a.m. in Alaska), the jury foreman, a balding, middle-aged man who works for a drug rehabilitation agency, handed another note to the marshal guarding the door. As Stevens, his lawyers, prosecutors and reporters responded to the summons from court officials, there was no direct word about what the note said. Then Shelton Snook, the court administrator, told reporters that no one would be allowed to dash from the courtroom, movie style, until the judge declared a recess. The marshal ordered everyone to leave their cell phones and Blackberrys outside the courtroom.

At 3:53 p.m., the jury walked in the courtroom door. Everyone in the room stood. The only sound was from people settling back into their seats. The jurors looked toward the judge and each other. None appeared to steal a glance at Stevens or his wife in the front row of the spectator benches.

If they had, they would have seen two grim faces. Stevens’ face was slightly flushed, his wife pale.

Brenda Morris, the lead prosecutor, touched her fingers together and closed her eyes, like she was meditating. Prosecutors Joe Bottini and Nicholas Marsh and FBI agent Mary Beth Kepner, the others at Morris’ table, held pens in their hands, ready to scrawl on legal pads.

"I will take the verdict," Sullivan told the foreman.

The foreman passed a sealed manila envelope to the marshal, who carried it to the judge. Sullivan ripped open the flap, checked the form to make sure it was complete, then put it back in the envelope. He passed the envelope back to the marshal, who returned it to the foreman.

Sullivan gave no hint of the verdict.

The foreman grabbed a microphone and stood. The only others on their feet where the three marshals guarding the back door.

"As to count one, what is the verdict of the jury?"

In a deep baritone, the foreman replied, "Guilty."

Not a whisper moved through the court. Stevens didn’t move.

Count two, asked the judge?

"Guilty," said the foreman.

The gray-haired Brendan Sullivan, Stevens’ lead defense attorney, put his arm around Stevens’ shoulder.

Count three?

"Guilty," said the foreman.

Stevens closed his eyes.

Count four?

"Guilty."

Catherine Stevens’ lips were quivering. Stevens’ daughter Beth, who attended every minute of the trial, looked at her feet.

Count five?

"Guilty."

Stevens shook his head from side to side. Morris was stoned face. Bottini, Marsh and Kepner wrote furiously and showed no reaction. .

And so it went for the next two verdicts. Another defense attorney, Robert Cary, requested that the jurors all be polled as to whether they agreed to the verdict, a common request of a losing side in court.

Each juror spoke. The verdict was unchanged.


Contact the reporters: rmauer@adn.com and ebolstad@adn.com

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