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Justice to Drop Charges Against Stevens

Updated: 9:28 a.m.

The Justice Department this morning asked the judge in the trial of former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) to vacate Stevens’ conviction and dismiss all charges against him, citing repeated misconduct by the prosecution.

Stevens was convicted on seven counts for failing to report $250,000 in gifts from Alaska oil company executive Bill Allen and other friends. He then lost his re-election in November, but has not yet been sentenced due to allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.

In a motion filed Wednesday, the Justice Department told the court that during a recent review of the case file, the government discovered notes of an April 15, 2008, interview of Allen that contradicted what Allen said in court during the trial.

In court, Allen testified that he had spoken with Stevens’ friend Bob Persons about the Senator’s requests for bills for the renovation of his home and that Persons told Allen the Senator was just “covering his a–.—

But the notes of his April interview indicate that Allen “did not recall talking to Bob Persons regarding giving a bill to the defendant. This statement by Allen during the April 15 interview was inconsistent with Allen’s recollection at trial, where he described a conversation with Persons,— the Department’s motion states.

In addition, despite the prosecution’s claims that the renovation of Stevens’ Girdwood, Alaska, home cost more than $250,000, “the April 15 interview notes indicate that Allen estimated that if his workers had performed efficiently, the fair market value of the work his corporation performed on defendant’s Girdwood chalet would have been $80,000.— During the trial, Stevens’ lawyers displayed $162,000 in checks that his wife Catherine had paid to various contractors for their work on the project.

The Justice Department acknowledged Wednesday that these interview notes “could have been used by the defendant to cross-examine Bill Allen and in arguments to the jury,— but the prosecutors never turned the notes over to the defense. In addition, the department is now admitting that its prior briefings to the court on the handling of Allen’s interviews were “inaccurate.—

The department concluded that, given the facts in the case, “granting a new trial is in the interest of justice … [but] based on the totality of circumstances and in the interest of justice [the government] will not seek a new trial.— Instead, “The government moves to set aside the verdict and dismiss the indictment with prejudice,— meaning that it cannot be re-filed.

Attorney General Eric Holder echoed that language in a statement Wednesday. “After careful review, I have concluded that certain information should have been provided to the defense for use at trial,— Holder said.  —In light of this conclusion, and in consideration of the totality of the circumstances of this particular case, I have determined that it is in the interest of justice to dismiss the indictment and not proceed with a new trial.— 

He added, “The Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility will conduct a thorough review of the prosecution of this matter. This does not mean or imply that any determination has been made about the conduct of those attorneys who handled the investigation and trial of this case.—

During the trial, the government was forced to admit that it had improperly withheld from the defense evidence that could have been helpful to Stevens. Some documents were redacted to black out information that could have been of use to Stevens’ lawyers before the Justice Department turned them over.

The judge repeatedly chastised prosecutors, and at one point removed key documents from the trial because he concluded that Justice knew the documents were incorrect when they submitted them as evidence. Stevens’ attorneys have filed a half dozen motions for dismissal throughout the case, based on the prosecution’s mishandling of evidence.

After Stevens was convicted, an FBI agent came forward with allegations that other agents and members of the prosecution team had bungled the case. The agent charged that one of his colleagues carried on an inappropriate personal relationship with one of the government’s key witnesses; that evidence languished in a Justice Department hallway; and that the prosecution schemed to hide evidence from the defense.

Those allegations have created a tangled series of hearings and motions, during which the Justice Department struggled to answer how it had handled the allegations made by the agent. These proceedings delayed any move by the court to sentence the former Senator and infuriated the judge. The Justice Department ultimately removed the original prosecution team from the case and assigned a new group of prosecutors to handle the litigation over the FBI agent’s allegations.

The next hearing in the case had been scheduled for April 15.

Sen. Mark Begich (D), who defeated Stevens in November, issued a statement saying, “The decision by President Obama’s Justice Department to end the prosecution of Senator Ted Stevens is reasonable. I always said I didn’t think Senator Stevens should serve time in jail and hopefully this decision ensures that is the case. It’s time for Senator Stevens, his family and Alaskans to move on and put this behind us.—

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