The government's case against Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, got underway Monday in Washington D.C. with jury selection, and could reveal details about politics in Alaska and connections between an oil company and Alaska's senior senator.
Stevens, who is in the middle of a re-election campaign, was hit with a seven-count indictment on July 29 that accused him of lying on financial disclosure forms he was required to file with the U.S. Senate and concealing things of value he received from the oil services firm Veco and company CEO Bill Allen, who a personal friend of the 84-year-old Stevens.
Allen and former Veco vice president of community affairs and government relations Richard L. Smith pleaded guilty in May 2007 to providing more than $400,000 in corrupt payments to public officials from the state of Alaska.
Stevens, who is the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, arrived at the courthouse just before 9 a.m.
The pool of 150 potential jurors filled out questionnaires designed to give them the opportunity to disclose any conflicts of interest or associations with potential witnesses listed by the judge. That list includes four U.S. Senators: Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., as well as former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Among other items, Stevens is accused of concealing $250,000 worth of gifts and renovations to his Girdwood, Alaska, home that were allegedly paid for by Veco.
The government alleges that Veco sought assistance from Stevens to obtain funding for oil projects including international projects in Pakistan and Russia and the establishment of a natural gas pipeline from Alaska's North Slope. Veco was acquired by global engineering firm CH2M Hill in September 2007.
Stevens' lawyers asked for a speedy trial so the senator could potentially clear his name before the November elections. The trial is expected to last three to four weeks.
At the time of his indictment, Stevens said in a statement, "I have never knowingly submitted a false disclosure form required by law as a U.S. senator. ... I am innocent of these charges and intend to prove that."
Stevens' defense team is expected to assert that Stevens did nothing wrong and seek to question the reliability of Allen's memory after he suffered a major head injury in a 2001 motorcycle accident when he was not wearing a helmet.
Stevens' defense already has lost a pre-trial battle, however -- a bid to get the case reassigned to a judge in Alaska.
Aside from the allegation that Stevens accepted the renovations to his house, the government claims Stevens received additional things of value, including a $44,000 1999 Land Rover Discovery that Stevens exchanged with Allen for a 1964 Mustang and $5,000.
According to court documents, the government also alleges Stevens never claimed the followings gifts allegedly given to him by unidentified individuals: "a $2,695 massage chair, from Person A ... a $3,200 hand-designed, hand-constructed stained glass window, built to specifications provided by the defendant and his spouse, but paid for by Person B and given to Stevens in 2001. Neither were reported on his 2001 Financial Disclosure Form … and … a sled dog, valued at approximately $1,000, given to the defendant by Person B in 2003, which the defendant misrepresented on his 2003 Financial Disclosure Form as a $250 gift from an Alaskan nonprofit charitable organization."