WASHINGTON – Audiotapes played in court Tuesday showed allies of Sen. Ted Stevens in cahoots to conceal repairs made to the Alaska senator's ski home in Girdwood,and perhaps more crucial to prosecutors,they demonstrated the senator knew a close friend helped pay for them.
FBI agents secretly recorded conversations in February 2006 between Bob Persons,a Girdwood restaurant owner,and Bill Allen,former head of VECO Corp.,a defunct oil-services company that allegedly gave the senator hundreds of thousands of dollars in home renovations.
Stevens is charged with failing to report those gifts on his Senate disclosure forms.
Persons and Allen went back and forth on how to make it look like Stevens paid a nearly $1,100 labor bill to a plumber.
“Is there some way you can tell him that labor's paid by Ted?” Persons asked Allen in the recording. According to the tapes,Persons accidentally indicated on an invoice that Allen paid the labor costs.
To cover their tracks,Persons suggested Allen get a check from Stevens but not cash it.
“If it ever comes up,say screw you,here's the check,” Persons advised. The tapes could also be used to question the senator's mindset.
“As Catherine says,'Ted gets hysterical when he has to spend his own money,” Persons said in the tapes,referring to the senator's wife. “He can't really afford to pay a bunch of money.”
That jab was a reference to the money Stevens was spending on race horses he owned.
Stevens' defense team will claim the tapes are not a smoking gun because they prove the senator was originally unaware Allen had paid for anything. And when he did find out,he said he needed a bill,the tapes reveal.
However,the conversation between Allen and Persons could lead a jury to believe that request was a ruse.
Earlier in the trial,Allen said Persons told him the lawmaker requested bills only to “cover his ass.”
Defense lawyers spent the morning portraying Allen as a man squeezed into crossing Stevens to protect his family and the business he spent a lifetime building.
Allen allowed FBI agents to secretly tape three conversations he had with the senator in 2006 as part of a plea deal for bribing Alaska lawmakers.
The key witness agreed to cooperate because the agency stipulated it would not go after Mark Allen,the senator's son,who also admitted to bribery. VECO was also spared from criminal charges in exchange for Allen's assistance with the government.
“It was part of your job to be cooperating,wasn't it?” defense lawyer Brendan Sullivan asked the magnate.
“I guess so,” Allen replied.
The more Allen gives the government,Sullivan claimed,the more favorable it will be for his family and his sentence.
Prosecutors argued Allen's plea is not just a ploy to save himself and that his testimony is the truth about nearly a decade of home renovations Allen completed for free.
During questioning by prosecutor Joseph Bottini,Allen recalled Stevens telling him,”I know you're putting more work in there than what you're saying.”
The exchange marked the end of Allen's testimony,which was deferred throughout the week by U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan to resolve multiple calls by Stevens' lawyers for a mistrial.
A mistrial hearing is set for Wednesday afternoon to determine if the prosecution withheld evidence from Stevens' lawyers.
Charlie Hart,an Anchorage plumber,was the first person other than Allen to testify in nearly a week. He said he was sent to Stevens' Girdwood home in 2006 to fix the heating system and was told by Allen to produce an unconventional bill.
“He asked me to split the invoices – one for labor,one for parts,” Hart testified,adding that he received a check from Stevens for the materials but not for the labor.
A myriad of oddities have taken place in recent days – away from the jury – with perhaps the strangest coming Monday,when Judge Sullivan accused Allen's personal lawyer,Robert Bundy,of signaling answers to him from the viewing gallery.
The issue did not fade away Tuesday. Stevens' defense said Bob Phillips,the senator's personal attorney,noticed Bundy making gestures to Allen throughout his testimony.
No sanctions have been levied.
“I couldn't believe what I was seeing,” the judge said Tuesday. “That's borderline obstruction of justice.”