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Hatch Testifies to Stevens’ Character

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) took the stand in the criminal trial of his colleague Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and called the Alaskan “one of the true lions of the Senate. … He’s totally honest, totally straightforward.”

The defense has called a series of witnesses from Alaska to testify to Stevens’ fairness, and to point out that he has helped interest groups that have not been as generous to him as VECO. Last week, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said that Stevens’ reputation for truthfulness was “in a word, sterling.”

Hatch echoed this sentiment: “If Ted Stevens tells you something, you can go to the bank on it.”

This morning, the defense also called Stevens’ daughter, Susan Covich, who testified that between 2002 and 2004, she frequently slept at her father’s house in Girdwood because she was traveling to and from Anchorage for school and to help care for a sick friend. She said that on several of these trips, she stopped at the Girdwood house in the evening and found Bill Allen sleeping there and other bedrooms occupied.

Stevens is accused of accepting more than $250,000 worth of renovations and other home improvement from Allen, who was the chief executive officer of the oil service company VECO. The government alleges that since Stevens never paid Allen or VECO, he was required to report these upgrades as gifts on his annual disclosure forms.

Covich said that on several occasions when she arrived at the house “there were lights on and cars in the parking lot, … and it just got too creepy” so she drove on to a hotel instead.

Covich fought back tears as she described her son’s ongoing struggle with drug abuse, noting that he was hired by VECO in 1999 and sent to the North Slope, then laid off because of drug abuse in 2002. He was rehired in 2003 and sent to a training program to become a diesel mechanic but was kicked out of the program in 2004. “He’s residing in a correctional facility at this time,” she said.

The defense is aiming to make the case that Allen used the house as often as Sen. Stevens did, and that many of the renovations might have been for his own benefit. Covich’s testimony dovetails with the defense argument that Allen removed Sen. Stevens’ wife Catherine’s furniture from the house, replacing it with his used, overstuffed leather sofa and other items from an apartment he owned.

The defense also called Jeanne Penney, a longtime friend of the Stevenses, who testified that she had purchased a $3,200 stained-glass window for the home as a housewarming present for Catherine Stevens to celebrate the completion of the renovations. This window is one of the gifts that Sen. Stevens is accused of failing to report on his financial disclosure forms.

To accommodate Hatch’s schedule, Judge Emmet Sullivan allowed the defense to suspend the testimony of Augie Paone, the carpenter who did much of the interior finish work on the Stevenses’ house.

Paone testified in the morning that he billed the Stevenses for his work, and was promptly paid in full.

He also testified that Dave Anderson, one of the VECO employees who testified last week that he had spent hundreds of hours working at the Stevenses’ residence in 2000 and 2001, sometimes smelled of alcohol when Paone met him at the job site. That allegation is part of the defense contention that the work VECO employees were performing at the house were not worth as much as VECO records appear to indicate that the company was paying.

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