In a trial that could hardly be fraught with more errors, it now appears that the U.S. government's key witness in its corruption trial against Sen. Ted Stevens might have been coached by his attorney while on the stand.
Former CEO of VECO, Bill Allen, might have had his attorney in the courtroom signaling answers to him while he was on the witness stand during cross-examination by the defense. Judge Emmett Sullivan called Allen's attorney Robert Bundy to the courtroom dais when Allen's testimony had concluded for the day.
"Why shouldn't I hold you in contempt of court right now?" the judge asked.
"It's clear he was signaling an answer to the witness," Sullivan said, ordering the attorney out of his courtroom.
"I'm disturbed that an attorney would sit out there and communicate with a witness," the judge added.
Allen is at the heart of the prosecutors' case against Stevens, 84, the longest-serving Republican senator, who has held his seat as Alaska senator since 1968.
Prosecutors claim Allen and his company paid for a massive renovation project to Stevens' Girdwood, Alaska home and gave him several valuable gifts, which the senator allegedly failed to report on financial disclosure forms required by the U.S. Senate.
Joseph Bottini, an assistant U.S. attorney from Alaska working on the case, said he had known Bundy for years and would be surprised the communication was intentional.
And defense attorney Brendan Sullivan said he had not noticed the apparent signals from Bundy to Allen during his lengthy cross-examination for the day.
Through much of the day, attorney Sullivan cross-examined Allen, the lead government witness in the case. Allen, who suffers from hearing loss and suffered a major head injury in a 2001 motorcycle accident, sometimes fished for words and had to have questions repeated on many occasions.
Brendan Sullivan asked Allen about statements he made in an FBI interview that if he had given Stevens an invoice, he would have paid it.
"You told the agents Ted Stevens wanted to pay for everything he got?" Brendan Sullivan asked.
"I don't remember that ... I probably said that," Allen said. After a bench conference with Judge Sullivan the question was asked again and Allen responded by saying "Yes."
Under additional questioning, the defense attorney asked Allen if Stevens "always paid for dinner ... flights and paid money that was his share."
"Yes," Allen said.
According to Allen's testimony, Bob Persons, one of Stevens' friends who kept tabs on the construction project at the senator's house, said about several notes that Stevens sent to Allen asking for bills and invoices was just "Ted covering his ass."
Allen was also questioned about the design and renovations done to Stevens' house and problems with the roof that VECO had designed on the senator's house. The roof created large chunks of ice and VECO employees installed a heating system on the roof to solve that issue.
"When we got it done the right way, it was solved," Allen told the jury,
Brendan Sullivan then asked, "And you didn't want to send him a bill?"
"No, I didn't," Allen answered, adding that he would not have done so because it was a "mess-up."
Allen also said he never sent a bill to Stevens because "Everything was what's fair." He will again take the stand Tuesday.
The judge has expressed dismay several times during the trial, after the defense filed two mistrial requests last week. Stevens' attorneys had charged that prosecutors withheld key evidence, though Judge Sullivan allowed the trial to proceed after scolding the government lawyers.