Stevens gains access to witness' medical records

Ex-VECO exec must turn over documents before testifying

Posted: Friday, September 19, 2008

WASHINGTON - Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska can probe the mental health of the government's star witness in next week's corruption trial against the longtime Alaska icon, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said government witness Bill Allen must turn over his medical records dealing with his 2001 motorcycle accident before testifying against Stevens, the Senate's longest-serving Republican.

Stevens is to stand trial beginning Monday on charges of lying in Senate financial disclosure records about hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and home renovations he received from VECO Corp.

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, 84, says he paid every bill he received and has pleaded not guilty to all seven counts. The senator has pushed to get his trial completed before Alaskans vote Nov. 4 on his re-election.

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.

But Allen suffered some brain damage in a 2001 accident. 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 a helmet, was thrown from the motorcycle and hit his head on the pavement.

Government lawyers say the accident affects Allen's speech but not his memory. Stevens' lawyers want the records to determine if Allen's testimony against Stevens can be trusted.

Sullivan said the defense can look at Allen's medical records from the accident, "but only the record that pertains to the motorcycle accident." Those records will not be made public, Sullivan said.

The judge decided that the government can introduce evidence including attempts to get employment of his children and grandchildren from VECO, e-mails between Stevens and his friends about the case and an unusual Florida condo deal.

Prosecutors say Stevens bought the $360,000 condo in a complex that was being built. Rather than putting down a 10 percent deposit, prosecutors say he put down only $5,000 and his friend, a partner in the development company, kicked in the rest. Six months later, the development company allegedly bought back the condo for $515,000, giving Stevens a healthy profit even after he paid back his friend for the down payment.

Federal rules restrict how prosecutors can use evidence that doesn't result in criminal charges. Prosecutors say it bolsters their case that Stevens hid his financial deals on Senate forms, since he didn't disclose the money his friend gave him to buy the condo.

Defense attorneys had objected to the evidence, saying prosecutors were trying to "smear the senator's character."

Sullivan also decided that the Justice Department must post copies on its Web site of exhibits Stevens' lawyers introduce in court, along with the government's exhibits against the Alaska senator. Justice Department attorneys wanted Stevens to pay for and set up his own Web site, but defense attorneys objected to the cost.

"If they're going to post documents, it should be all of the evidence, not just their side," said defense lawyer Robert Cary.

Prosecutors also revealed that they think Stevens also failed to report as a gift a $29,000 bronze fish statue sitting on his front porch. Justice Department lawyer Sullivan said the "very large" bronze fish statue is sitting on Stevens' front porch but doesn't appear in his financial disclosure forms.

Cary said the statue was of migrating salmon, and was bought for an upcoming Ted Stevens library in Alaska.

Lawyers also sparred over whether jurors should hear several wiretapped calls, including one where a Stevens friend says to Allen, "Ted gets hysterical when he has to spend his own money."

Prosecutors want to use the telephone call between Allen and Robert Persons because Persons worked on the Stevens house. Cary argued that the conversation was hearsay.

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