Stevens guilty on 7 counts
Alaska senator maintains his innocence
Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, one of Congress’ most powerful Republicans, was convicted Monday of lying on financial disclosure forms to conceal his receipt of gifts and expensive renovations to his house, just eight days before he faces voters.
The 84-year-old lawmaker, the first sitting U.S. senator to go on trial in more than two decades, sat quietly as a federal court jury foreman read the verdict after less than a day of deliberations: guilty on seven felony counts, each with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
The senator, who probably will face a less severe penalty under federal sentencing guidelines, left the courtroom without answering reporters’ questions.
In a statement, Stevens maintained his innocence, accused Justice Department lawyers of “repeated instances of prosecutorial misconduct” and vowed to fight for re-election to a seventh full term.
“This verdict is the result of the unconscionable manner in which the Justice Department lawyers conducted this trial,” he said. “I ask that Alaskans and my Senate colleagues stand with me as I pursue my rights.”
Known as “Uncle Ted” in Alaska, Stevens has been a major figure in his state for more than four decades and has brought home billions of dollars in federal aid during his career.
It is not clear what role the conviction might play in contests involving other Senate Republicans who are trying to hold onto their seats.
Within hours of the verdict, Democrats were sending out news releases seeking to link opponents to Stevens.
“It’s a horrible year for Republicans, in a horrific fall, and this is yet another horrific event,” said Charlie Cook, editor of the non-partisan Cook Political Report.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the GOP‘s vice presidential candidate, has declined to endorse Stevens and issued a statement Monday night that said: “This is a sad day for Alaska and for Sen. Stevens and his family.”
“I’m confident Sen. Stevens will do what’s right for the people of Alaska,” she added, without elaborating.
Prosecutors declined to comment as they left the courtroom.
They had alleged that Stevens was a miser who approached a close friend to help him remodel his house in Girdwood, Alaska. That friend, Bill Allen, chief executive of the now-defunct oil services company Veco, testified that his company financed extensive renovations to the house from 2000 through 2002.
Stevens contended that Veco played no role in the renovations, that Allen was only providing workers and that he had been paying the firm’s moonlighting employees.
Stevens and his wife, Catherine, testified that they thought a residential contractor had been in charge of the remodeling work. They paid that firm about $132,000 in 2000 and 2001 and paid other workers about $30,000.
Stevens’ attorneys argued that the couple believed they had paid fair-market value for all of the work.
They attacked the credibility of Allen, who previously pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges in a wide-ranging investigation of corruption in Alaska politics.
The judge chastised prosecutors several times for mishandling documents and struck some testimony and records because Justice Department attorneys did not turn over information to the defense.