Tactics change in Stevens trial

Federal prosecutors changed their plans and said they would not put their star witness on the stand Monday in the corruption case against Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

Instead, the Justice Department said it plans to continue the parade of witnesses from oil pipeline company VECO Corp., which allegedly provided more than $250,000 in free renovations on the senator’s home.

The decision means the highlight of the trial — the testimony of VECO founder and former Stevens confidant Bill Allen — will be delayed at least until Tuesday and may be pushed back until Wednesday.

As the trial entered its second week, prosecutors gave no reason for the witness switch. But defense attorneys complained Friday that they still did not have all the medical records related to a serious motorcycle injury that left Allen with lingering brain damage. The judge suggested delaying Allen’s testimony until lawyers had those records available for cross-examination.

Stevens, the Senate’s longest-serving Republican, is accused of lying on Senate financial forms about gifts from VECO.

The lengthy FBI investigation has weakened one of the Capitol Hill’s most powerful lawmakers, who is now fending off a Democratic challenge to a seat he’s held for generations.

Instead of calling Allen, prosecutors listed more than a dozen potential witnesses, including VECO employees, former Stevens staffers and a former Federal Election Commission official.

Prosecutors have been moving swiftly through their witness list, in part because defense attorneys have said little during cross-examination. They don’t dispute that VECO employees worked on the senator’s home but they say Stevens believed he was paying for all the work.

The 84-year-old senator says he never asked Allen for any freebies and, since he and his wife paid $160,000 for the project, they assumed that covered everything.

Stevens says that if anything was tacked on to the job, Allen did so without telling him. Because the senator’s wife handles all his finances, he says there’s no way he could have known Allen was adding on work.

Allen has pleaded guilty to bribing Alaska lawmakers and, as part of his plea deal, became a crucial FBI witness in a corruption investigation that has rattled Alaska’s political system. State lawmakers have already gone to prison, a fate Stevens is trying to avoid while he simultaneously fends off Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich’s challenge to the once safe seat.


On the Net:

Justice Department documents: http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/us-v-stevens/