Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska: Is he a conniving Washington insider bent on concealing expensive gifts received from influential friends, or honest an lawmaker duped by one of those supposed allies?
Depends whether you believe his lawyers or the government.
Lead prosecutor Brenda Morris laid out the government's blueprints to the jury of 11 women and five men today, calling it "a simple case about a public official ... who took hundreds and thousands of dollars of financial benefits ... year after year after year."
"It is about the defendant hiding things from the public," Morris said. "He hid them from the public so he could continue to receive them."
In July, a grand jury indicted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator, on charges that he lied on required Senate financial disclosure forms to conceal $250,000 worth of gifts, including a major renovation of his Girdwood, Alaska, home.
Stevens has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Morris alleged in her opening statement in at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., that Stevens knowingly omitted the gifts he received between 2000 and 2006, and has no excuse for doing so as he has filled out the paperwork for decades. Stevens, 84, has held his seat in the U.S. Senate since 1968.
"You do not survive as a politician for over 40 years in this town without being very smart and very deliberate ... flying under the radar," Morris said.
Morris also detailed Stevens' relationship with Bill Allen, the former CEO of the now-defunct oil services company Veco, which allegedly preformed much of the work on the senator's home.
Prosecutors say that Allen and others allegedly plied Stevens with gifts in order to gain favor with the powerful senator, though the indictment does not accuse Stevens of striking a quid pro quo deal with Allen or his company.
"The defendant never paid Allen or Veco a dime," Morris said.
The prosecution alleges that Stevens relied on Allen and Veco to manage the renovation project instead of going through the traditional means of hiring a contractor.
"We reach for the Yellow Pages, he reaches for Veco," Morris told the jury.
Allen pleaded guilty to corruption charges last year, but court records note he suffered a brain injury as the result of a past motorcycle accident, calling his credibility as a witness into question.
Employees of Allen's company spent thousands of hours at Stevens' home, but a contracting firm, Christensen Builders, also worked on the project and served as a buffer between Allen and Stevens, Morris alleged.
"If you look at the forms, it was like Veco was never there ... and that's the way the defendant wanted it," Morris said.
The prosecution's first witness, John Hess, a former Veco employee, allegedly drafted the blueprints for the Stevens home renovations. Hess said various Veco employees, including a steel fabrication specialist and plumber, contributed their services to the renovation project.
Morris also listed several other "sweetheart" deals that Stevens allegedly took part in, such as trading his 1964 Mustang to Allen for a 1999 Land Rover, and named gifts he allegedly received, such as a $2,700 massage chair, furniture and a Viking gas grill for the senator's home.
But defense attorney Brendan Sullivan countered the prosecution's claims, stating that "Ted Stevens had no intent to violate the law. ... Why, after 75 years, would he go out and file false statements and become a criminal?"