Sen. Stevens Enters Not Guilty Plea

By Theresa Cook

Jul 31, 2008 1:09pm

ABC News’ Matt Jaffe and Theresa Cook Report:  At his Thursday afternoon arraignment before a federal judge, Sen. Ted Stevens pleaded not guilty to charges that he concealed $250,000 worth of gifts he received from an oil services company.

Stevens, the longest-serving Republican Senator, did not speak during his appearance in the packed courtroom, but his attorney, Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., told U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan that his client wished to plead not guilty.  After the plea was entered, a relaxed-looking Stevens took a seat while lawyers began to hammer out the pre-trial details.

After a 30-minute recess, Judge Sullivan ruled that Stevens could be released on his own recognizance, but ordered him to surrender his passport.  The court tentatively set the trial for September 24.

"This is not a complex case," Stevens’ attorney said before the break, as he requested that the trial be expedited so the Senator could have the opportunity to clear his name before the November election.

Stevens, one of 18 Republican Senators running for reelection this year, will attempt to fend off a challenge for the seat he’s held since 1968 from likely opponent Mark Begich, the mayor of Anchorage. 

Attorney Sullivan had also asked for a change of venue to Alaska, noting that 90 percent of the case’s witnesses reside in that state and the activities in question occurred there, but prosecutor Brenda Morris argued that a move would be "inappropriate." 

The defense is expected to file a formal request on the matter, and the judge said he’ll consider the request at an August 19 hearing.

A swarm of media surrounded the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C. in anticipation of the Alaska Republican’s appearance, but Stevens, wearing a light gray suit, pale blue shirt and dark blue tie, did not speak to reporters as he entered or exited the building.

On Tuesday, a federal grand jury handed down a seven-count indictment, charging that Stevens received $250,000 worth of gifts from the now-defunct Alaska firm VECO, but did not report them on financial disclosure forms he is required to submit to the secretary of the Senate. 

The company and its CEO allegedly paid for major renovations to Stevens’ Girdwood, Alaska home, participated in a car swap with the Senator in which he received a significantly more valuable vehicle that the one he put up in the trade, and outfitted his home with a professional grill, tool cabinet and furniture, according to the indictment.

Stevens, the longest-serving Senator in his party, is the 11th sitting U.S. Senator to be indicted in American history. 

He released a statement on Tuesday, declaring his innocence and stating his contention that he has never deliberately filed a false disclosure form. 

Federal agents raided the Girdwood home last July as part of their investigation into alleged public corruption in Alaska.  The inquiry, launched in 2004, has resulted in seven convictions to date, including those of former VECO executives and Alaska state lawmakers.

If convicted of making false statements, Stevens could face a maximum of five years in prison for each of the seven felony counts.

Stevens relinquished his leadership positions in the Senate after he was indicted, but conducted business as usual on Capitol Hill Wednesday, attending meetings and a Senate floor vote.

ABC News’ Jake Tapper and Z. Byron Wolf contributed to this report.

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