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FBI widens investigation into Stevens

Justice Department questions Senate bookkeeper in probe

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2007

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department is looking closely in two places as it investigates U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens: the Senate and his house.

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One of Stevens' longtime Senate aides, who handled the senator's personal bills, was subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury investigating the Alaska senator's dealings with a wealthy contractor. Federal investigators, meanwhile, are sifting through evidence seized Monday in a raid at Stevens' home in Girdwood.

The growing investigation focused on a complicated home improvement project that more than doubled the size of Stevens' home in 2000. Contractor Bill Allen, who pleaded guilty to bribing Alaska lawmakers, helped oversee that project. His company has won tens of millions of dollars in federal contracts.

Barbara Flanders, who serves as a financial clerk for Stevens on the Commerce Committee, testified under subpoena in the past several weeks and provided documents regarding the senator's bills, according to an attorney in the case. The attorney spoke on condition of anonymity because grand jury matters are secret by law.

Investigators, including FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents, got a firsthand look at the completed renovation Monday when they raided the house. They photographed and videotaped its contents and left with a garbage bag full of unidentified items.

Stevens, 83, is the longest-serving Republican in Senate history. He has denied any wrongdoing and has said he paid every bill he received for the improvements. He also has said he worries the investigation could have political consequences.

Stevens met privately with Capitol Hill staff members Tuesday, telling them he remained confident that everything would work out and encouraging them to answer any questions honestly, an aide said. Stevens said he had nothing to hide, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.

Flanders is a longtime aide who helps ensure that Stevens' bills are paid and his personal affairs are in order, the attorney said. She was questioned about the improvement project and how the bills were paid.

Reached by telephone Tuesday, Flanders would not discuss her testimony or describe her duties involving Stevens' personal accounts.

"I work for the Commerce Committee," she said. "I don't have any comment on any other issues."

The investigation grew out of a corruption probe that has ensnared several Alaska lawmakers and resulted in Allen's guilty plea for bribery. Only recently have authorities turned their focus to Stevens.

Among many items photographed in Monday's search were cases of wine stored in Stevens' house. Investigators photographed each case and the individual bottles, the attorney said.

About 15 agents took photos and video of various angles of the structure, climbing onto the roof at one point, and eventually entered. They later carried out a garbage bag full of unidentifiable materials and loaded it into an unmarked white van.

Investigators did not search Stevens' home in Washington, where he spends most of his time.



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