By Ian McCaleb, ,
Published May 18, 2015
The trial of Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens wound down late Friday afternoon, after a whirlwind week that saw the selection of a jury from 184 potential participants, rapid-fire opening arguments and a slew of witness testimony for the government.
The government has announced that it expects to call its central witness, former oil services firm VECO's one-time CEO, Bill Allen, to the stand on Monday morning. It's likely Allen will be sitting up there for quite some time — perhaps for the entirety of Monday and Tuesday, and maybe longer.
Stevens is accused of seven counts of making false statements on his yearly Senate financial disclosure forms from 1999 to 2006 in order to hide hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of goods and services he allegedly received from Allen and VECO.
Neither the government prosecution team nor the defense team argue against the assertion that Allen was Stevens' benefactor. But Stevens' lawyers contend Allen never billed Stevens for a great deal of favors and work — including the top-to-bottom renovation of the senator's ski "chalet" in Girdwood, Alaska. In not billing Stevens, his lawyers have argued, Allen placed Stevens in a compromised position because ...
1) Stevens had no idea he owed any such money (he paid an independent construction contractor for some of the work on the house and thought that was that).
2) Stevens' wife Catherine controlled the purse strings and acted as a sort of forewoman on the project, and didn't keep him adequately apprised of its escalating costs.
At the end of this second full day of true trial activity, we've learned a great deal about the mechanics of making massive improvements to a once modest A-frame house. The government trotted out worker after worker who participated in the renovation, and these men — some former employees of the defunct oil services firm VECO, others from a local construction firm — described in excruciating detail what kind of the work they did, and under whose direction.
And when I say excruciating, I mean the details presented have been as particular as the length of the nails used on a carpentry project.
We also heard from a VECO accountant who now works for the firm CH2M Hill (which bought VECO when it hit the skids), who was questioned at length by the government about a series of invoices that were passed around between VECO and its subsidiaries. The invoices covered a wide range of work done at the Girdwood residence, and seemed designed to skirt certain reporting requirements. For instance, many of the transactions were pegged under a numerical code for "consultant" fees.
At cross examination, the defense team sought only to show that Bill Allen's signature of approval was affixed to all of the invoices.
There was some amount of buzz about a note allegedly handwritten by Allen that mentioned "no paper trail" on a portion of the project, but the note was mentioned without context, and its significance will likely only be discernable when Allen takes the stand.
Many of those who spoke today on the stand talked of seeing Stevens and/or his wife Catherine on the Girdwood, property during renovations (they made the odd rare appearance), saying both were exceedingly nice, and Catherine even once brought muffins.
While not necessarily above-board, from where Stevens now sits, none of this material is particularly incriminating as of yet.
The day was characterized by, and may in the long run be more memorable for, a series of meltdowns between the judge and government about scheduling of witnesses. One witness — the accountant — was a no-show prior to lunch, and the government team was uncharacteristically tripped up by its own scheduling of incoming witnesses from Alaska.
Judge Emmet Sullivan threatened the government with having to watch their case "evaporate" if they didn't get some of these issues resolved, leading to hasty scheduling of flights on Saturday morning out of Anchorage for nine potential government witnesses, who will be stacked away in D.C. hotels until their time on the stand rolls around.