Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator and a figure in Alaska politics since before statehood, was indicted today on seven counts of failing to disclose thousands of dollars in services he received from a company that helped renovate and maintain his home. The first sitting U.S. senator to face federal indictment since 1993, Stevens...
Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator and a figure in Alaska politics since before statehood, was indicted today on seven counts of failing to disclose thousands of dollars in services he received from a company that helped renovate and maintain his home.
The first sitting U.S. senator to face federal indictment since 1993, Stevens has been dogged by a federal investigation into his home renovation project and his dealings with wealthy oil contractor.
The investigation has upended Alaska state politics and cast scrutiny on Stevens — who is running for re-election this year — and on his congressional colleague, Rep. Don Young of Alaska, who is also under investigation.
Stevens’ indictment further damages Republican prospects in the November election as Senate Democrats, who now enjoy a 51-49 majority, try to capture a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority.
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Matthew Friedrich, chief of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said prosecutors followed the department’s policy to keep politics out of the decision-making process.
“We bring cases based on our evaluation of the facts and the law,” Friedrich said. “We bring cases when they are ready to be charged and that’s what happened here.”
Prosecutors said Stevens received more than $250,000 in gifts and services from VECO CORP, a powerful oil services contractor, and its executives. From May 1999 to August 2007, prosecutors said, the 84-year-old senator concealed “his continuing receipt of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of things of value from a private corporation.”
Stevens has adamantly denied any wrongdoing.
In a prepared statement on his Web site today, Stevens wrote:
“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.
In accordance with Senate Republican Conference rules, I have temporarily relinquished my vice-chairmanship and ranking positions until I am absolved of these charges.
The impact of these charges on my family disturbs me greatly.
I am innocent of these charges and intend to prove that.”
Stevens, in past statements to the media, has always said that he paid all bills that were forwarded to him. And, in a handwritten note sent to a supporter, Stevens last year put that amount at more than $130,000.
Stevens’ Alaska home sits at the base of the Alyeska ski resort in Girdwood, a deep-cut valley about 40 miles south of Anchorage.
Initially a modest 1,200 square feet structure, it has been greatly expanded through remodeling, and now encompasses 10 rooms and three baths.
The indictment alleges that over and over again, Stevens turned to workers at VECO to perform a myriad tasks to expand, upgrade, furnish and maintain the Girdwood home.
The indictment unsealed today says the items included: home improvements to his vacation home in Alaska, including a new first floor, garage, wraparound deck, plumbing, electrical wiring; as well as a Viking gas grill, furniture and tools.
He also is accused of failing to report a 1999 swap of an old Ford for a newer Land Rover for use by one of his children. In the swap with Bill Allen, the former chairman of VECO, Stevens traded a 1964 Ford Mustang worth less than $20,000 for a 1999 Land Rover Discovery that Allen had purchased new for about $44,000, the indictment alleges.
As recently as January 2005, the indictment alleges that Stevens was allowing VECO to provide free labor, worth more than $1,000 — to inspect and repair a boiler and heating system.
Justice Department said Stevens will not be arrested and will be allowed to turn himself in.
His alleged actions represent violations of federal financial disclosure laws.
Stevens has coasted to re-election six times in Alaska, but was in what was viewed as the toughest race of his career this year against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begicha.
It also tarnishes one of the most powerful and savvy of the GOP lions in the Senate a year after another Republican senator, Larry Craig of Idaho, pleaded guilty to charges arising out of a Minneapolis airport men’s room sex sting.
Stevens for years wielded power from his position as chairman of the Appropriations Committee from 1997 to 2005, except for 18 months when Democrats controlled the Senate. His longevity also means that if Republicans took over the Senate, he would be president pro tempore, a mostly symbolic title but one that would make him third in line for the presidency after the vice president and Speaker of the House.
Under Senate rules, today’s indictment will require Stevens to give up his post as senior Republican on the Appropriations Committee.
On Capitol Hill, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., called Stevens a hero, adding, however, he didn’t know any details about the indictment. “All of us have time that we have to deal with that are tough,” Warner said. “I wish him the best.”
“I’ve known Ted Stevens for 28 years and have always known him to be impeccably honest,’ said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., another longtime colleague.
Prosecutors alleged that Stevens “took multiple steps to continue” receiving things from VECO CORP. and founder Allen. At the time, 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.
A moderate Republican, Stevens has served almost 40 years in the Senate, where he unabashedly steered money to toward his remote and sparsely populated home state. He often drew criticism, however, for going around the traditional appropriations process to fund his pet projects.
The Justice Department has closely followed that money, looking for where it intersects with the senator’s son, Ben.
A lobbyist and former state senator, Ben Stevens was paid as a consultant for many in the fishing industry who benefited from legislation his father drafted. When Ted Stevens created a $30 million marketing fund for Alaska seafood, Ben Stevens helped decide which companies got the money. Some were his clients.
Ben Stevens also had financial ties to VECO, serving as a paid consultant for that company while serving in the Alaska Legislature. Allen, the company’s former chairman, has pleaded guilty to bribing some state legislators in exchange for votes favoring the oil industry.
One of the alleged co-conspirators is identified in a federal indictment as state “Senator B” who began serving in the Legislature in 2001. Ben
Stevens has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
“I have no reason to anticipate an indictment of Ben Stevens anytime soon, if ever,” said John Wolfe, a Seattle attorney representing Ben Stevens.
Seattle Times staff reporter Hal Bernton contributed to this report.