ANCHORAGE - FBI agents earlier this week retrieved a handwritten note by U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens to former U.S. Attorney Wev Shea in which Stevens said he and his wife paid "over $130,000" for the VECO-supervised renovations to their home in Girdwood.
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The amount described in the note, dated June 7, is the only time Stevens is known to have put a figure on his out-of-pocket costs for the 2000 addition, which more than doubled the size of the house. Stevens told reporters last month that he paid every bill he received, leaving open the possibility that he wasn't billed for all the work. He has declined to answer any more questions.
If $130,000 is an accurate total, it would raise questions about how such a major renovation could have been accomplished within such a tight budget. The carpentry contractor alone said he was paid more than $100,000 by Stevens. Another contractor, who raised up the house to make room for the new first floor and built part of the foundation, said he too was paid by Stevens, though he didn't recall the amount. The earth-moving contractor who prepared the ground for the job also said he was paid by Stevens.
That would leave little if any left over for a range of other work that was done, everything from design to plumbing and electric to a new roof. As recently as this week, Stevens declined to answer questions about how the project was billed and financed.
Federal investigators are keenly interested in the matter as part of their three-year investigation of official corruption in Alaska. They've subpoenaed witnesses to testify about the project before grand juries in Anchorage and Washington, D.C., and the FBI and IRS conducted a 12-hour search of the home July 30, with agents documenting the addition in painstaking detail.
According to the office of the Senate historian, it was the first time a sitting senator's residence was searched in the history of those agencies.
Stevens' note was a thank-you to good wishes from Shea on the eve of a White House dinner held in Stevens' honor on May 23. Stevens' remarks about the construction project were unsolicited.
"This is a sad portion of my life - it will take time to explain," Stevens said in the two-page note. "Catherine and I personally paid over $130,000 for the improvements to our chalet in Girdwood. Someone - or more than one - keeps telling the FBI that's not so. Takes time to go back over five years to prove they are wrong."
In a briefing with Alaska reporters in Washington on July 16, Stevens appeared to leave room for a discrepancy between what he paid and the actual costs.
"We paid every bill that was given to us. Every bill that was sent to us has been paid, personally, with our own money, and that's all there is to it," Stevens said before cutting off questions about the house and the investigation.
The existence of the note was first reported Sunday in the Seattle Times. At 9:30 a.m. Monday, Shea said, two FBI agents on special duty here from Miami arrived at his downtown office and asked for the original. Shea turned it over.
In executing their search warrant on Stevens' home July 30, agents appeared to be as interested in the house itself as in removing anything inside. They used tape measures, still cameras, video cameras and even a special camera capable of producing 360-degree panoramas to document the dwelling and its fixtures.
The house was expanded by jacking up the one-story building and adding a new ground floor with two bedrooms, a sauna, bathroom, a laundry room, game room, "mud room" and garage, according to plans filed with the city at the time.
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