Ted Stevens, the former senator from Alaska, turned down a plea offer from federal prosecutors that would have spared him a trial and jail time but required him to plead guilty to a single felony count, according to newly disclosed records.
WASHINGTON — Ted Stevens, the former senator from Alaska, turned down a plea offer from federal prosecutors that would have spared him a trial and jail time but required him to plead guilty to a single felony count, according to newly disclosed records.
But Stevens’ lawyers rejected the proposal on his behalf, according to transcripts of discussions between the trial judge and lawyers for both sides. The transcripts were sealed until the judge, Emmet Sullivan of U.S. District Court, recently ordered them opened.
The disclosure, first reported Monday on the Web site of Legal Times, is the latest twist in the case of Stevens, a Republican whose conviction on ethics charges was recently thrown out by Sullivan because of errors by prosecutors who are now themselves the subject of an ethics inquiry.
On July 31, just weeks before the trial was to begin, Sullivan asked the lawyers in a private conference if there had been any negotiations on a plea agreement. Brendan Sullivan, Stevens’ lawyer, said “they did offer us no-jail disposition” for pleading guilty to one felony count. “We turned it down,” Sullivan added.
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In October, a jury found Stevens guilty on seven felony counts in connection with Senate disclosure forms that did not list gifts and renovation services, largely for a family residence in Girdwood, Alaska. During the five-week trial, Sullivan repeatedly scolded Justice Department prosecutors for improperly withholding information that defense lawyers could have used to bolster their case.
Stevens, who is 85, lost his bid for re-election by a close margin within days of the verdict.
Attorney General Eric Holder said earlier this month that a new team of government lawyers he had assigned to the case discovered a new instance of the prosecution team’s withholding information that could have been used by the defense. Holder asked that the case be dismissed and said that the department would not seek to retry Stevens.
The existence of discussions over a possible plea provides some insight into the case. Prosecutors did not charge Stevens with a more straightforward corruption count like bribery, which could have been harder to prove than what they charged him with — failing to file disclosure forms.
But the prosecution apparently believed it was important Stevens acknowledge a felony to avoid a trial. For Stevens, such a plea would have raised a serious obstacle to his plans to return to the Senate, where he had been a member for 40 years.
Meanwhile, the D.C. Court of Appeals said Stevens can practice law again in the District of Columbia.
Also Tuesday, Holder launched a wide-ranging review of his lawyers’ compliance with evidence-sharing rules in response to the Stevens case.
Holder appointed a group of senior prosecutors and department officials to review evidence-sharing practices and determine whether even more training was needed.