WASHINGTON – The second week of the federal trial of Sen. Ted Stevens had a contentious kickoff Monday when defense attorneys accused government prosecutors of hiding evidence from them.
Expected testimony from the government's star witness,former VECO Corp. head Bill Allen,was delayed until Tuesday,but there was still plenty of drama before jurors even entered the courtroom. Stevens' lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the case late Sunday on the grounds that prosecutors did not reveal to them the correct amount of work Rocky Williams did when he oversaw renovations to Stevens' Girdwood,Alaska,home.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said there was no basis for either a dismissal or mistrial,but he was puzzled about why prosecutors allowed Williams,who had been subpoenaed by the prosecution and defense,to fly back to Alaska without consulting him.
“It's a federal subpoena to appear in my court,” a peeved Sullivan said. “I think the government is treading in some shallow water here. What should the sanction be for that?”
Last week,the defense called on the project's bookkeeper,Cheryl Boomershine,to illustrate that Williams had worked far more hours,up to 70 a week,than would have been suitable for the money Stevens said his wife paid an independent contractor.
However,one of Stevens' lawyers,Robert Cary,said that in a phone conversation last weekend,Williams said his work total was nowhere near what prosecutors asserted.
He added that Williams had already told this to prosecutors,but they ignored it and sent the former VECO employee home to Alaska on Thursday.
“For the better part of the past two weeks,the government has had Mr. Williams in Washington,D.C.,interviewing him and preparing him to testify,” the defense wrote in the motion to dismiss. “Apparently,government counsel did not like what they heard. They sent him back to Alaska last Thursday,the day of opening statements.”
As a result of the revelation,Sullivan allowed Cary to cross-examine Boomershine again. She repeatedly said it was not her job to verify if Williams had actually done the work documented on the financial spreadsheet.
Cary said Williams told him in their phone call that he balanced the Girdwood home renovation project with other duties,which Stevens' attorneys will use to argue that his payments were for more than just repairs to Stevens' home.
Following the tongue lashing from Sullivan,federal prosecutors called on an assembly line of former VECO employees,starting with Brian Byrne,who built a deck for the newly created first floor. He said that Allen told him “a certain amount of discretion would need to be used” to avoid the “appearance of impropriety.”
Defense lawyers have argued that Allen did not tell Stevens about the full extent of the renovations.
Cecil Dale III said he installed a heat tape system at the house and recalled a $29,000 bronze fish statue on the front porch.The prosecution said Stevens failed to report the gift on his Senate disclosure form.
“I know it was pretty heavy,” Dale said. “They had to have a forklift to set it.”
Dale said he saw Stevens at the Girdwood home while he was working there,which conflicts what he said under oath during a pre-trial deposition. He said he later recalled the senator's visit.
“He had given me a cigar,shook my hand and said good job,” Dale said.
The 84-year-old Republican senator faces seven counts of failing to disclose $250,000 in home renovations,services and gifts from VECO,a defunct Alaskan oil-services company.
The defense motion threw a brief wrench into the proceedings,as Stevens is pushing for a speedy trial to clear his name before the Nov. 4 election,in which he is seeking an eighth term.
Federal prosecutors did not cite a specific reason for sending Williams back to Anchorage,but according to court papers,Williams had “health issues,including coughing episodes.”
In court,prosecutors said they sent Williams home because he was two weeks overdue but did not specify for what.
Sullivan joked about his dissatisfaction with the prosecution saying,”And everyone was in such a good mood today because of the Redskins' win.”
But he was still left searching for answers. Sullivan has ordered the prosecution to provide a reason for sending Williams home without informing the court.
“There might be an inference that can be drawn from this,” he said,before adding,”I'm not suggesting there's been misconduct by the government.”