Published July 29, 2008
WASHINGTON – Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens allegedly made false statements to cover up gifts given to him by an oil contractor seeking his help on Capitol Hill, according to a seven-count federal indictment unveiled Tuesday.
Stevens, 84, is the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate and has been under investigation for more than a year, with a heavy focus on work done to his Girdwood, Alaska, ski-community house.
"We are at the very beginning of the criminal process," said Matthew Friedrich, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department Criminal Division. "Like any other criminal defendant, Senator Stevens is presumed innocent."
Talking to reporters, Friedrich said that while the charges alleged making false statements, Stevens is not charged with bribery.
Nevertheless, Friederich said, Stevens made no mention of approximately $250,000 worth of work done to his house and other gifts given to him over seven years between 1999 and 2006.
In a statement issued by his office, Stevens said:
"I have proudly served this nation and Alaska for over 50 years. My public service began when I served in World War II. It saddens me to learn that these charges have been brought against me. I have never knowingly submitted a false disclosure form required by law as a U.S. senator. ...
"The impact of these charges on my family disturbs me greatly. I am innocent of these charges and intend to prove that."
Stevens will not be arrested. He was seen walking into an attorney's office, and Justice Department officials said arrangements are being made for him to turn himself into authorities.
The most immediate result of the inictment was Stevens giving up his leadership posts, which he did under Senate protocol. Until Tuesday, he had been the top-ranked senator on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, as well as the defense subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.
The gifts allegedly came from Bill Allen and the company he founded, VECO Corp., an influential Alaska oil services firm that has been the focus of federal investigators in a public corruption probe that has been churning since 2004. The probe has ensnared more than a half dozen public officials, lobbyists and business leaders.
In 2000, Allen oversaw construction on Stevens' house, although Stevens has claimed he paid for all the construction. Friederich said investigators found the senator did not reimburse the money.
In the indictment, officials said VECO built Stevens, among other things, a new first floor to the house — lifting the original floor of the house to build beneath it — a new garage, a new first- and second-floor wraparound deck, and new plumbing and wiring.
VECO allegedly also provided him with expensive new vehicles in exchange for his used cars, furniture, household goods, a new tool chest stocked with tools, a brand new gas grill, and other items.
Prosecutors also said Stevens "took multiple steps to continue" receiving things from VECO and Allen. At the time of the construction, the indictment says, Allen and other VECO employees were soliciting Stevens for "multiple official actions .... knowing that Stevens could and did use his official position and his office on behalf of VECO during that same time period."
VECO's requests included funding and other aid for the oil services company's projects and partnerships in Pakistan and Russia. It also included federal grants from several agencies — as well as help in building a national gas pipeline in Alaska's North Slope Region, according to the indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.
Nearly one year ago to the day, federal investigators raided Stevens' Alaska home. Investigators also secretly taped conversations between Allen and Stevens.
Republican colleaugues of Stevens were holding a regular weekly lunch meeting when news broke of his indictment.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said, "I've known Senator Stevens for 28 years, and I've always known him to be impeccably honest."
Also emerging from the lunch, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters he had "just learned" about the indictment and would "no doubt ... have more to say about it later," but he took no questions.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said it was a "sad day" both for the Senate and for Stevens.
"I believe in the American system of justice that he is presumed innocent," Reid said. "As far as what's going to happen in the Republican caucus, that's up to them."
The White House issued a statement, saying: "Senator Stevens has a long and distinguished career representing the State of Alaska. The president has been working with Senator Stevens for many years and he appreciates his strong leadership on key issues. This is a legal matter that the Department of Justice is handling and we will not be commenting on it."
For almost the first time in his career, Stevens faces a tough re-election and a perhaps even a significant primary challenge. The primary is scheduled for Aug. 26.
First appointed to the Senate in 1968, Stevens has been re-elected six times, never with less than 66 percent of the vote. And no Democrat has represented Alaska in either the House or Senate since 1980.
In the general election, Stevens is likely to face Nick Begich, the Democratic Mayor of Anchorage. Begich's father represented Alaska in the House before he was killed in a 1973 plane crash.
Most Alaska Senate race polls have Begich up over Stevens.
FOX News' Ian McCaleb, Trish Turner and Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.