Stevens Indicted on 7 Counts

Senator Vows to Fight

Posted July 29, 2008 at 7:03pm

The Justice Department issued a seven-count indictment against Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) on Tuesday, asserting the veteran lawmaker repeatedly falsified his financial disclosures to hide more than $250,000 in gifts he received over an eight-year period.

Stevens, the longest-serving Republican Senator, categorically denied the charges late Tuesday afternoon.

“I have proudly served this nation and Alaska for over 50 years. … It saddens me to learn that these charges have been brought against me,” Stevens, 84, said in a statement. “I have never knowingly submitted a false disclosure form required by law as a U.S. Senator.”

The Alaska Senator did, however, relinquish his committee leadership assignments, as dictated by GOP bylaws addressing Members under felony indictment.

“The impact of these charges on my family disturbs me greatly,” Stevens said. “I am innocent of these charges and intend to prove that.”

According to his most recent financial disclosure form, Stevens owes $15,000 to $50,000 to the law firm Williams & Connolly.

Stevens’ Tuesday indictment stems from an ongoing federal investigation into state and federal corruption in Alaska that has netted seven criminal convictions to date.

According to the indictment, the majority of the “gifts” Stevens accepted were in the form of renovations to his Girdwood, Alaska, home for a new first floor and finished basement, including the labor and supplies related to electrical and plumbing work, and heating and flooring materials, as well as a new deck.

All of the alleged gifts were provided by oil services firm VECO Corp. and former CEO Bill Allen.

Stevens has previously asserted that he personally paid outside contractors for the home renovations — FBI agents raided the property in 2007 as part of the ongoing investigation — although he has said VECO personnel did review bills from those contractors.

But Allen, who along with another high-ranking VECO official pleaded guilty in May 2007 to providing more than $400,000 in payments to Alaska state officials, has testified in court that he used company funds to pay for some of the construction costs as well as provided company employees to perform the remodeling work.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Friedrich acknowledged Tuesday that Allen, who entered a plea agreement, “is cooperating with the United States” in the Alaska investigation.

In addition, the indictment notes that Stevens received new and used furniture, a stationary tool storage cabinet with new tools and a professional Viking gas grill.

The Senator also allegedly accepted a new 1999 Land Rover Discovery purchased by Allen for $44,000 in exchange for his 1964 Mustang and an additional payment of $5,000. Documents state the Mustang was valued at less than $20,000 at the time of the transaction.

Although the indictment states that Stevens “received and accepted solicitations for multiple official actions” from VECO and its employees during the same eight-year period, Friedrich emphasized that the charges against Stevens do not include bribery.

“This indictment does not allege a quid pro quo,” Friedrich said.

According to the indictment, VECO sought Stevens’ influence for funding requests and “other assistance” with the company’s projects and partnerships in Pakistan and Russia, as well as federal grants and contracts, and “assistance” on state and federal issues related to the construction of a natural gas pipeline in Alaska’s North Slope.

Among the funds VECO received were a National Science Foundation grant for the Arctic Research Support and Logistics Program, provided to VECO Polar Resources.

Nonetheless, the Justice Department’s decision to charge Stevens with filing false statements — a violation of federal law that carries a prison term of up to five years — is not unusual, according to Stan Brand, a noted white-collar defense attorney.

“The bribery cases are hard to make,” Brand said. “You need evidence of a direct quid pro quo. You’ve got to show specific acts done in connection with the supposed gifts and given that difficulty, and the ever-present Speech or Debate Clause … it’s better not to charge them.” The Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution prohibits the prosecution of Members for their legislative activity.

Numerous Members have pleaded or been found guilty of making false statements on their financial statements, beginning with then-Rep. George Hansen (R-Idaho) in 1984, the first lawmaker to be charged under a 1978 law that established financial disclosure requirements.

But the most recent indictment could prompt Members to cast a more careful eye on their financial statements.

“I think this opens up the prospect that the government is going to be scrutinizing all these filings that are made now under both the House and Senate ethics rules and the lobby law with great attention to detail,” Brand said. “People are obviously exposed if they don’t list everything.”

Stevens is now the third sitting Member of Congress to face federal charges this session, along with Reps. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) and William Jefferson (D-La.)., who have been charged in unrelated cases.

Stephen Tidwell, the FBI’s executive assistant director for criminal, cyber, response and services, said Stevens “will be allowed to turn himself in. He will not be arrested.”

A court date has not yet been set.

Senate Ethics Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Vice Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) indicated Tuesday that the panel is likely to give deference to the federal investigation.

“The Senate Ethics Committee does not comment on pending matters or matters that may come before the Committee,” the duo said in a statement. “Absent special circumstances, it has been the long-standing policy of the Committee to defer investigation into matters where there is an active and ongoing criminal investigation and proceeding so as not to interfere in that process.”

Paul Singer contributed to this report.