Judge refuses to throw out Stevens case

Senator scheduled to stand trial on corruption charges in two weeks

Posted: Thursday, September 11, 2008

WASHINGTON - The federal judge overseeing the corruption trial of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens refused his lawyers' requests Wednesday to throw out the case and indicated a flurry of last-minute legal motions and inquiries won't stop the trial from beginning this month.

"The defendant asked for a speedy trial, and a speedy trial is what the defendant will get," U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said.

Stevens, the Senate's longest-serving Republican, is scheduled to stand trial in two weeks on charges of lying in Senate disclosure records about hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and home renovations he received from VECO Corp., an oil pipeline services company. VECO Corp. is now owned by Denver-based CH2M Hill.

Stevens, 84, has pleaded not guilty to all seven counts and has pushed to get his trial completed before Alaskans vote Nov. 4 on his re-election.

Stevens did not appear at the hearing, but his lawyers have aggressively pushed several motions for dismissal, including an argument that the statute of limitations had expired for some of the charges.

The judge threw out those motions. Sullivan will rule soon on whether some of the government's evidence against Stevens involves legislative acts and violates the Constitution's speech-or-debate clause, which prohibits the executive branch from using its law enforcement authority in a way that interferes with legislative business.

Prosecutors also defended themselves against complaints they were not sharing information with Stevens' lawyers, saying they have furnished more than 100,000 documents, 2,000 photographs and 200 video and audio recordings to the defense.

Government lawyers also defended the health of their star witness, VECO founder Bill Allen, who suffered a head injury in a motorcycle accident in 2001.

Allen is cooperating with federal investigators and has pleaded guilty to bribery and corruption charges, admitting that a VECO program to encourage political contributions from the company's employees violated federal tax laws. The program spread campaign money to Stevens and other Alaska politicians, including $4,500 to Sarah Palin when she ran for lieutenant governor in 2002. Palin is the running mate of GOP presidential nominee John McCain.

Prosecutors instead have built their case on what VECO did for Stevens. VECO employees normally build oil pipeline and processing equipment. But company workers also led the renovation of the senator's home, a project that was overseen by Allen, a longtime Stevens friend. Stevens says he paid every bill he received.

Alaska state troopers said Allen was driving a 2000 Harley-Davidson motorcycle when he attempted to stop behind a group of cars waiting for a vehicle turning left. He lost control of the motorcycle and tipped it over, officials said. Allen, who was not wearing his helmet, was thrown from the motorcycle and hit his head on the pavement.

Government lawyers have said in earlier trials that the accident affects Allen's speech but not his memory. Defense lawyers seem ready to challenge that, but Allen plans to fight their subpoenas of his medical records. Prosecutors say they don't have any of Allen's medical information.

"The notion that the government doesn't have any information is hard to believe," defense lawyer Alex Giscard Romain said.

"It hit me right where your speech in the brain ... is right here," Allen said in court testimony last year. "And about ... my brain was ... died about a ... about a quarter."

People misread Allen's statement to mean that a quarter of Allen's brain is dead, when what Allen meant was that a piece of his brain the size of a quarter was dead, prosecutor Edward Sullivan said.

"If we really thought a quarter of his brain was dead, we wouldn't have put him on the stand," he said.



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