The wife of the 84-year-old Alaska senator,Catherine Stevens,has been the linchpin for defense lawyers. They have claimed since opening statements she handled all the bills for renovations to the couple's Girdwood,Alaska,chalet.
She could take the witness stand Wednesday. And the Republican senator is poised to follow suit,as both were on a new witness list for the week.
Stevens is accused of failing to report to the Senate $250,000 worth of gifts,mostly in free home renovations,from VECO Corp.,a defunct oil services company with a history of bribing Alaska lawmakers.
There is no guarantee the Stevenses will testify,as they are under no obligation to do so,which Judge Emmet G. Sullivan reminded the senator.
“It's your choice,” he said. “You don't have to say anything.”
Regardless,the Stevens family came under increased focus Tuesday.
Sullivan ordered e-mail communications between Catherine Stevens and anyone with a Senate address,as well as any conversations about gifts,be turned over to government lawyers.
Prosecutors filed a motion over the weekend that said,”We anticipate that certain documents at the time of the renovations will reflect that both Catherine Stevens and defendant knew they had not paid for the VECO work.”
Although they had already received documents from Mayer Brown,Catherine Stevens' law firm,they did not date to the start of renovations in 2000.
The motion also claimed the communications would prove the couple took steps to mislead the media about the renovations.
The Stevens family had its first representative in court Tuesday when Susan Covich,the senator's daughter,took the stand.
She detailed her commute between Kenai and Anchorage – about 150 miles – for college classes. Covich said she often stopped at the Girdwood chalet to rest for the night,where she sometimes ran into Bill Allen,the former VECO head accused of lavishing Stevens with gifts.
Allen,according to Covich,hosted late-night parties at Stevens' getaway home about 35 miles from Anchorage. She described seeing a driveway full of cars and a rambunctious party atmosphere on one occasion. “It just got too creepy,so I just drove on,” she said.
Covich also testified how her father helped her son get a job with VECO at a time when he was struggling with drugs.
Stevens' lawyers have tried to portray Allen as eager to please and interfering in the senator's affairs. They argue Allen did not tell them about all the invoices for the repairs to the Girdwood home.
Augie Paone,owner of Christensen Builders Inc.,echoed that claim by defense lawyers,saying Catherine Stevens paid every bill – $130,000 worth – he gave her. Paone ran every bill through Allen,he said,before it was passed along to Catherine Stevens.
Defense lawyers have said Allen did not present a bill because he was embarrassed how long the renovations had taken.
Paone's testimony supported that view. He said he VECO employee Dave Anderson often appeared to be drunk on the job.
“I'm not a drinker,so I wasn't sure if it was from drinking the night before or on the job,” he said,adding he smelled alcohol on the project overseer's breath.
Sullivan recessed court early so the legal teams could resolve whether Paone would provide testimony proving Allen told him to “eat the bill.”
For a third straight day,Stevens' legal team brought in a high-profile character witness.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch,R-Utah,continued where Hawaii Democratic Sen. Daniel K. Inouye and former Secretary of State Colin Powell left off last week.
“Love the guy,” Hatch said of the Alaska senator. “He's just a wonderful man.”
Hatch recalled going to Stevens for advice more than three decades ago when he was first elected to the Senate in 1976,eight years after “Uncle Ted.”
“He's one of the true lions of the Senate,” Hatch said,looking directly at jurors. “If he gives you his word,he will keep it.”
In addition to the Stevenses,the remaining witnesses to be called include Girdwood restaurant owner Bob Persons,who on secretly recorded tapes said the senator's bill requests were a ruse,Olympic swimmer Donna de Verona and Martha Stewart,the University of Alaska's director of federal relations.