Longest-serving Republican senator convicted in corruption case

Alaska Senator Ted Stevens has been convicted of lying about free home renovations and other gifts worth more than $250,000 US in a case that threatens to bring his 40-year political career to an ugly end.

Alaska Democrats call for Ted Stevens to resign

Senator Ted Stevens leaves federal court in Washington, D.C., on Monday after being convicted making false statements on U.S. Senate financial documents. ((Gerald Herbert/Associated Press))
Alaska Senator Ted Stevens has been convicted of lying about free home renovations and other gifts worth more than $250,000 US in a case that threatens to bring his 40-year political career to an ugly end.

The U.S. Senate's longest-serving Republican, Stevens was found guilty on all seven counts of making false statements on Senate financial documents.

Stevens, 84, was convicted of all the felony charges he faced of lying about free home renovations and other gifts from his friend and millionaire oil contractor, VECO Corp. chief executive Bill Allen. Jurors began deliberating last week.

Visibly shaken after the verdicts were read – the jury foreman read "guilty" seven times – Stevens tried to intertwine his fingers but quickly put his hands down to his side after noticing they were trembling. After the verdicts, Stevens sat in his chair and stared at the ceiling as lawyer Brendan Sullivan put his arm around him.

As he left the Washington courtroom, Stevens got a quick kiss on the cheek from his wife, Catherine, who testified on his behalf during the trial. He declined to talk to reporters waiting outside.

The month-long trial revealed that employees for VECO Corp., an oil services company, transformed Stevens's modest mountain cabin into a modern, two-storey home with wrap-around porches, a sauna and a wine cellar.

Stevens said he had no idea he was receiving freebies. He said he paid $160,000 for the project and believed that covered everything.

Stevens faces up to five years in prison on each count when he is sentenced, but under federal guidelines he is likely to receive much less prison time, if any. The judge originally scheduled sentencing for Jan. 26 but then changed his mind and did not immediately set a date.

Stevens not required to quit campaign

The verdict throws the coming election into disarray.

Stevens had asked for a speedy trial, hoping he would be exonerated in time to return to Alaska and win re-election on Nov. 4. He kept his campaign going and gave no indication that he had a contingency plan in case of conviction.

Despite being a convicted felon, he is not required to drop out of the race or resign from the Senate. If he wins re-election, he can continue to hold his seat because there is no rule barring felons from serving in Congress. The Senate could vote to expel him on a two-thirds vote.

"Put this down: That will never happen – ever. OK?" Stevens said in the weeks leading up to his trial. "I am not stepping down. I'm going to run through and I'm going to win this election."

In Alaska, the Democratic party issued a statement calling for Stevens to resign immediately.

"He knew what he was doing was wrong," the party said in the statement. "But he did it anyway and lied to Alaskans about it."

Stevens is fighting off a challenge from Democrat Mark Begich. Democrats have invested heavily in the race, running television advertisements starring fictional FBI agents and featuring excerpts from wiretaps in an attempt to claim the reliably Republican seat.

CEO's testimony key to conviction

Stevens's conviction hinged on the testimony of Bill Allen, the senator's longtime drinking and fishing buddy. Allen, the founder of VECO, testified that he never billed his friend for the work on the house and that Stevens knew he was getting a special deal.

Stevens spent three days on the witness stand, vehemently denying that allegation. He said his wife paid every bill they received.

Living in far-off Washington made it impossible to monitor the project every day, he said. Stevens relied on Allen to oversee the renovations and his friend deceived him by not forwarding all the bills, he said.

Prosecutors used a barrage of witnesses to ask how Stevens could have been in the dark about VECO's work on the project. VECO employees testified to seeing Stevens at the house.

One left him a company business card. Stevens sent thank-you notes to others.

Stevens's conviction is a key part of a lengthy FBI investigation into Alaska corruption, but prosecutors said it is not the end.

Stevens's longtime Republican colleague, Rep. Don Young, remains under investigation for his ties to VECO. Stevens's son, Ben, a former Alaska legislator, is also under investigation.