Star Witness Bill Allen Testifies in Stevens Trial

Posted October 1, 2008 at 6:54pm

A star witness in the trial of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens (R) testified Wednesday that he never billed the lawmaker for extensive renovations on his Girdwood, Alaska, home, asserting that although Stevens requested bills for the work, those efforts were little more than political cover.

[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 the form of renovations to his Girdwood home — from the now-defunct oil services firm VECO and its executives.

In his second day of testimony, former VECO head Bill Allen read a note from Stevens in which he requested a bill for some of the renovation work, raising the specter of former Sen. Bob Torricelli (D-N.J.), who pulled out near the end of his 2002 re-election run after the disclosure of illegal contributions to his campaign from a businessman tied to North Korea.

“Dear Bill, when I think of the many ways in which you make my life easier and more enjoyable I lose count,” Stevens wrote in the note dated Oct. 6, 2002, read by Allen. “Thanks for all the work on the chalet. You owe me a bill. Remember Torricelli my friend.”

Allen, who testified that he did not understand the note at that time, continued to read: “Friendship is one thing, compliance with the ethics rules entirely different. I asked Bob P. to talk to you about this, so don’t get PO’d at him, it just has to be done right.”

But Allen told the court that Bob Persons, a close friend of Stevens who defense attorneys have acknowledged kept watch on the renovation project for the lawmaker, informed him not to send a bill.

“He said, ‘Bill, don’t worry about getting a bill, Ted’s just worried about covering his a–,’” Allen testified.

At that point, Stevens became animated, turning to a member of his defense team to converse.

In a subsequent Nov. 8, 2002, note to Allen, the Senator wrote: “Dear Bill, Many thanks for all you’ve done to make our lives easier and our home more enjoyable. The Christmas lights top it all. … Don’t forget we need a bill for what’s been done out at the chalet.”

Allen said he did not bill Stevens at that time, and when asked why he did not do so, he responded, after an extended pause: “I don’t know why.”

“I had talked to Bob Persons before this, but I thought, well it’s the same thing,” Allen said, adding that he was not inclined to bill Stevens: “I really didn’t want to because I wanted to help Ted. ’Cause I liked him.”

Stevens’ defense counsel has yet to cross-examine Allen, although attorney Brendan Sullivan indicated in his opening statement that the defense would depict Allen as a friend who at times gave the lawmaker expensive but unwanted gifts and intentionally failed to bill Stevens for portions of the renovations.

Federal prosecutors are expected to continue interviewing Allen today, however, after Judge Emmet Sullivan abruptly adjourned the trial Wednesday afternoon, stating that the court would recess to accommodate a member of the jury.

While on the witness stand Tuesday, Allen also outlined how he or his firm solicited Stevens and his office for assistance with government contracts and lobbied Stevens as well as Alaska state legislators on issues including an oil pipeline.

In one instance described by Allen, VECO had invested in a Pakistani oil pipeline but faced difficulties collecting subsequent dividends from the project.

At Allen’s request, Stevens contacted then-World Bank President Jim Wolfensohn to help the project, citing the agency’s own investment in the project.

“I just sent this letter to the World Bank. We’ll keep you informed,” Stevens wrote in a September 1999 faxed note to Allen, along with a copy of the letter.

While that effort was successful, Allen also outlined instances, such as a training program to recruit Russian workers, that did not ultimately work, despite Stevens’ assistance.

Before Allen delved into those topics, however, Sullivan reminded the jury that Stevens is not accused of accepting bribes or improperly using his office, only of filing false statements.

“The defendant is not charged with a crime for performing official or political acts. … Evidence of any official action by the defendant … may be considered by you only to determine the motive or intent, if any, of the crimes charged in the indictment,” the judge said.

Allen went on to discuss his efforts to lobby for an Alaska natural gas pipeline that ultimately led to his indictment and a guilty plea for bribing Alaska state legislators.

Allen is one of eight people convicted to date as the result of a federal investigation into state and federal corruption in Alaska.