Oct. 21, 2008 -- Sen. Ted Stevens' lead defense attorney blasted the government's case against the Alaska Republican, saying its efforts were a "twisted interpretation of the evidence" against "an innocent man."
Brendan Sullivan Jr., who has a record of having very few clients face conviction by a jury, argued on behalf of Stevens who is accused of hiding $250,000 worth of home renovation costs and other gifts by omitting them on financial disclosure forms required by the U.S. Senate. Stevens, the longest-serving GOP senator, is up for re-election in November.
The prosecution claimed in court that the main supplier of the gifts was Bill Allen, the ex-CEO of shuttered oil services firm Veco. The defense countered that the Stevens family paid $160,000 for the renovation project carried out at their Girdwood, Alaska, home.
Sullivan highlighted, in his closing argument, letters that Stevens sent to Allen in 2002. In one of them, Stevens asked Allen for a bill. "You owe me a bill ... remember Torricelli, my friend," Stevens wrote, in reference to former Sen. Robert Torricelli, who was ousted from the U.S. Senate amid an ethics investigation. "Friendship is one thing Congressional ... ethics rules entirely different." Sullivan also claimed that Allen hid the bills from the Stevenses.
Sullivan also pleaded with the jury to consider the character witness testimony from Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. "Are you going to believe Daniel Inouye or Bill Allen?" Sullivan asked.
"If your conscience says not guilty, then it is your duty to say no," Sullivan added. "You have the power to do what's right ... I ask you to return seven not guilty verdicts."
Countering Sullivan's closing argument, lead prosecutor Brenda Morris exclaimed, "Wow! Were we at the same trial?
"No one is above the law ... not a teacher, not a lawyer, not a sitting United States senator." Morris asserted that, over the years, the evidence showed that Stevens was engaged in a pattern and practice of filing false and misleading financial disclosure forms.
In her closing, Morris chipped away at the defense, telling the jury, "The defendant's own witnesses contradicted each other. In an effort to undercut the defense argument that Stevens' wife handled all of the finances and paid all the bills relating to the home renovation," Morris told the jury of 11 women and 5 men, "That woman, Catherine Stevens, is still recovering from the bus he threw her under ... she is trying to cover for her husband."
Morris then launched into a series of anecdotes about Stevens' alleged receipt of gifts. Morris recounted for the jury what one co-worker told her. "He lives so close to the North Pole that maybe Santa and his elves came and did the work ... he had no idea he had been very, very good."
Morris added, "It's not about the final number, it's that he knew he got the deck, he knew he didn't pay for it and he knew he didn't report it."
Morris continued hammering away at Stevens and his friends, former Veco CEO Allen and another friend, Bob Persons, playing for the jury an FBI intercepted phone conversation where Allen and Persons discuss covering up invoices that noted "Labor paid by Bill."
On the tapes, Persons says to Allen, "We don't need this thing floating around ... We need to get the guy at Chugach Sewer & Drain to make that disappear from his records."
Through the hour and twenty-minute verbal assault, Stevens sank deeper into his chair, and, at one point, held his hands together like he was praying.
Morris then told the jury they should discount the character witness testimony, saying the defense thought, "Maybe the big name witnesses would sway you ... He's not going to commit crime with Colin Powell."
Saying that politicians always keep their guard up and have public personas they convey, Morris told the jurors, "None of the character witnesses know the private Ted Stevens ... Ladies and gentlemen, you know the real Ted Stevens.
"Behind all that growling and all those snappy comebacks and all that righteous indignations, he's just a man ... Find him guilty of scheming and filing false disclosure forms ... It's your job," Morris concluded.
Earlier in the day, Morris' colleague Joseph Bottini methodically laid out the government's case.
Laying out a series of gifts that Stevens has allegedly received over the years but has failed to disclose, Bottini told the jury, "The price is always right when it is free."
Bottini said that the evidence presented in the case showed that Allen showered Stevens with benefits that extended far beyond renovations on Stevens' home where 20 Veco employees worked.
The prosecution has highlighted a $2,700 massage chair, a $29,000 fish statue and the $1,000 price tag of a sled dog puppy purchased at a charity event to show that Stevens failed to report many things from 2000 to 2006.
"There are gifts that should have been reported, and he knows it," Bottini said.
Bottini said of Stevens, he was trying to "cover and conceal things. ... If he was willing to cover up and devise small things like his dog ... what does it tell you about what he may want to do with the renovations of his home."
Concerning the addition of a $6,000 generator to the home in preparation for Y2K, Bottini said Stevens had "great difficulty explaining it away ... he knew if he was going to ask for a generator, he was going to get one."
Stevens testified at the trial that he instructed Allen to get him a small pull-cord generator in preparations for power outages associated with Y2K, but his friend installed a permanent unit on his Girdwood, Alaska, home. The government alleges that Stevens never claimed the item on his financial disclosure forms. "The defendant says he doesn't want it ... but it's still there."
The prosecutor noted almost a dozen times that it was sheer "nonsense" that Stevens was unable to stop Allen and his generosity.
"Does anyone believe he could get rid of the stuff he received?" Bottini asked. "It was his obligation to report this."
Emphasizing that the case was about the senator accurately filing his U.S. Senate financial disclosure forms, the prosecution summarized its evidence and told the jury that Stevens showed disdain for the reporting requirements in a 2004 e-mail to his friend. "In connection with this *gd* disclosure form," the document noted.
Listing all of the Veco employees that worked on the home, Bottini said Veco had to get Christiansen Builders, the main general contractor that the Stevens' had paid, to do the work because it didn't normally build homes.
While the defense has tried to portray that Allen and Stevens were close friends, the prosecutor said that Veco was "the most improbable home contractor around." Bottini noted that while both Stevens and his wife were attorneys, they never had a contract for the work on their home, and they both seemed fine with having a Veco architect draw the blueprints for the home.
The prosecution's strongest evidence appeared to be the playing of Stevens' own voice on FBI surveillance tapes, saying, "These guys can't really hurt us. You know, they're not going shoot us. It's not Iraq. What the hell? The worst that can be done, the worst that can happen to us is we round up a bunch of legal fees and, and might lose, and we might have to pay a fine, might have to serve a little time in jail."
Bottini said to the jury, "Who talks about doing a little time in jail if they didn't do anything wrong?"
When Sullivan rose to plead his case before the jurors, he said the FBI tapes show in full context that Stevens and Allen were talking about campaign contributions. Sullivan noted that Allen was a convicted felon, "a paid witness ... trying to get his $70 million holdout." Sullivan was referring to possible inducements that Allen could get from his sale of Veco to the global engineering firm CH2M Hill. "How can you sleep on verdict night?" Sullivan dramatically asked the jurors.
Sullivan then showed the jurors the numerous checks Ted and Catherine Stevens submitted for payments to their home, which totaled about $160,000. "You can see the innocence in the documents. ... They paid $160,000."
Sullivan said the prosecutors don't understand Stevens' frame of mind. "The government is being Monday morning quarterback, six and seven years out," he said. Sullivan said at the time that Stevens had no idea his friend Allen would become enmeshed in a wide-ranging political scandal in Alaska. "His friend was Bill Allen ... it was Bill Allen, not Veco, that used the chalet. ... It wasn't Veco that pleaded guilty and was convicted."
Sullivan made sure to say Allen "pleaded guilty to campaign violations, none of which involved Ted Stevens."
Perhaps the defense succeeded in casting some reasonable doubt on the prosecution's case: One female juror was seen nodding her head during Sullivan's closing argument as the check flashed before the jury showing payments for the house.