Allen Testifies on Deal Involving ’64 Mustang

Posted September 30, 2008 at 6:49pm

Federal prosecutors’ star witness took the stand Tuesday in the trial of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens (R), testifying about his longtime friendship with the Senator before divulging the first in a series of transactions that government attorneys have alleged amounted to gifts.

[IMGCAP(1)]Stevens is charged with seven counts of filing false statements over an eight-year period to conceal the receipt of more than $250,000 in gifts — primarily in renovations to his Girdwood, Alaska, home — from the now-defunct VECO oil services firm and former Chief Executive Officer Bill Allen.

Allen testified for about 80 minutes Tuesday afternoon, and he is expected to return to the witness stand today for several hours of additional questioning by prosecutors as well as cross-examination by Stevens’ defense team.

Prosecutors are expected to probe Allen about the extensive renovations to Stevens’ home in Girdwood, many of which were performed by VECO, while Stevens’ attorneys indicated in their opening statements that they will depict Allen as a friend who at times gave unwanted gifts to Stevens and even failed to bill him for a portion of the renovations.

On the witness stand Tuesday, Allen testified about his longtime friendship with Stevens, whom he first met at a 1982 fundraiser for former Sen. Frank Murkowski (R).

“We kind of really liked each other, had the same thoughts. Ted really worked hard. Ted loved Alaska and I loved Alaska,” Allen testified.

That friendship developed in subsequent years, Allen said, and the pair would take fishing trips and annual visits to what Allen called “boot camp.”

“We would walk and we wouldn’t have any hard liquor. We’d just drink wine and we’d have a cigar now and then, and we wouldn’t eat very much [to] try and to get some pounds off,” Allen testified. “The first ones were in Palm Springs and everybody was trying to always talk to Ted, and so it was a lot better to go to Wickenburg in Arizona.”

During his appearance, Allen seemed to avoid gazing in Stevens’ direction, except when asked to identify the Senator at the outset of his testimony.

Stevens, who gave no acknowledgement when Allen pointed in his direction, remained otherwise engaged in note-taking during his one-time friend’s testimony, stopping periodically to lean forward and examine photographs displayed on one of the courtroom’s monitors.

Federal prosecutor Joe Bottini questioned Allen, who was dressed in a dark suit and made use of special court-issued headphones, about his life history, including the establishment of VECO and a motorcycle accident that resulted in a brain injury and subsequent speech impediment.

The majority of Allen’s testimony Tuesday focused on a series of transactions with Stevens centered on a 1964 Mustang convertible.

In the first deal involving the car in 1999, also cited by prosecutors in their indictment of Stevens, Allen testified that the lawmaker paid him $5,000 plus the automobile in exchange for a new Land Rover owned by Allen and valued at $44,000.

In a letter to Allen from Stevens outlining the exchange, the Senator valued the Mustang at $25,000 plus cleaning and shipping costs. Stevens tallied his payment to Allen at a total of $32,170, the letter stated.

When prosecutors pressed Allen on whether he believed it to be an equal trade — he earlier testified that he believed the car would “always be worth a lot of money” because it is a rare model — he estimated the vehicle would currently be worth about $32,000.

He added, when asked why he entered into the exchange: “’Cause I liked Ted.”

Allen said Stevens suggested another trade involving the vehicle in 2005, offering Allen five to six guns in exchange for the vehicle’s return. Although Allen received the guns, he said he ultimately decided against the trade, asserting it could raise questions under internal Senate rules: “I said, ‘Ted we shouldn’t do that until you get out of the Senate.’”

Allen testified that Stevens’ brother-in-law also made an attempt in 2007 to repurchase the Mustang, but the vehicle is still owned by Allen and has been garaged in Seattle since 1999.

Allen is scheduled to return to the witness stand today, and his remaining testimony, including cross-examination by Stevens’ attorneys, could last the full day.

Nonetheless, prosecutor Nick March predicted that the government could complete its case by Thursday.

Judge Emmet Sullivan said in such a scenario, he would not likely call in jurors on Friday and Stevens’ defense team would begin its arguments on Monday.

In addition to Allen, the prosecution called a cadre of witnesses Tuesday, including Stevens’ former press secretary, Courtney Boone, now employed by U.S. Steel, and Heather Resz, a one-time reporter for Alaska Newspapers Inc., a chain of weekly publications.

Both witnesses testified separately about a late 2004 exchange, at which time Resz was researching a tip that Stevens had received a new deck on his Girdwood home but had not paid for the structure.

Boone testified that she referred questions about the project to both Stevens and his wife, Catherine, before ultimately issuing a statement to Resz denying any wrongdoing.

“I would have given the reporter only essential information,” Boone said, and later added: “This would have been a story I would have wanted to put a stop to.”

Resz testified that after receiving Boone’s statement, and failing to confirm the information through public sources, she abandoned the story: “I closed the file and threw up my hands.”

Attorneys for Stevens won a motion Tuesday to restrict Allen from identifying the lawmaker’s son, former state Sen. Ben Stevens, in testimony about corruption in the Alaska legislature.

Allen pleaded guilty in a separate trial to bribing Alaska state legislators, and he is one of eight people convicted to date as the result of a federal investigation into state and federal corruption in Alaska.

The former VECO head admitted to “providing benefits, and seeking official state action from a number of Alaska State senators and representatives,” including one individual identified only as “State Senator B,” Stevens’ defense attorneys stated in their motion.

“State Senator B is Alaska State Senator Ben Stevens, the defendant’s son, and the government obviously wishes to tar the defendant with unproven allegations about his son,” attorney Rob Cary wrote.

Federal prosecutors did not object to the motion, which Sullivan approved from the bench Tuesday afternoon.

Janie Lorber of CongressNow contributed to this report.