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Judge: Investigator found evidence of 'serious misconduct' in Stevens prosecution

Amanda Coyne

According to a court order by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan released Monday, special investigator Henry Schuelke III found "significant, widespread and at times intentional misconduct" by Justice Department prosecutors in charge of the corruption trial of the late Sen. Ted Stevens.

The report released Monday is a summary by Sullivan of a larger 500-page report, which Sullivan argues should be made available to the public.

Sullivan wrote that the special report, more than two years in the making, found that the prosecution was “(p)ermeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated his (Stevens') defense and his testimony, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government’s key witness.”

The key government witness here is Bill Allen the former head of the Alaska oil services company VECO Corp. In 2007, he pleaded guilty of bribing Alaska state lawmakers. Allen was also in charge of remodeling Stevens’ home, work that prosecutors alleged that Stevens didn’t disclose on necessary Senate forms.

Stevens was found guilty of the charges in late 2008. The trial, however, was marred by prosecutors who withheld evidence from the defense, including, according to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, information about Allen’s alleged involvement with under-aged girls, and his attempt to cover up such involvement by having those girls sign false affidavids, among other things. Some of this is alluded to in Sulllivan's order.

The Justice Department subsequently removed the initial legal team. It was information provided to the defense by the new team that ultimately resulted in Judge Sullivan tossing Stevens' convictions.

"In 25 years on the bench, I've never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I've seen in this case," Sullivan said at the time. "When the government does not meet its obligation to turn over evidence, the system falters." Sullivan then ordered Schuelke to investigate what went wrong. The DOJ is conducting its own investigation, which should be completed soon.

According to Sullivan’s overview, Schuelke and his colleague, William B. Shields, reviewed more than 150,000 pages of documents, interviewed numerous witnesses, conducted 12 depositions, and delved not only into the Stevens case but also into the government’s cases against former Alaska state lawmakers Pete Kott and Vic Kohring. It’s unclear what, if any, prosecutorial wrongdoing the investigators found in those cases.

It is clear, however, that there are abuses by those prosecutors that have yet to be made public. According to Sullivan, Schuelke and Shields “found evidence of concealment and serious misconduct that was previously unknown and almost certainly would never have been revealed – at least to the Court and to the public – but for their exhaustive investigation.”

No matter how serious the prosecutorial misconduct was, Shuelke is not recommending prosecutors face criminal contempt charges, because he wrote, the "contemnor" must disobey an order that is sufficiently “clear and unequivocal at the time it is issued.” The judge, Shuelke wrote, did not issue a “clear and unequivocal” order directing the attorneys to follow the law. He does indicate that obstruction of justice charges might be brought against the prosecutors.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amanda(at)alaskadispatch.com