Close friend turns star witness in Stevens trial

By: AP
By: AP

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A longtime friend of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens crossed the powerful lawmaker Tuesday and testified that he gave the Republican senator thousands of dollars in gifts.

The fiercely loyal Stevens gave no indication he even saw former fishing and drinking buddy Bill Allen enter the courtroom, and the two men barely looked at each other as Allen testified about the expensive gifts he gave Stevens during their 26-year friendship.

Stevens, 84, is on trial for failing to disclose about $250,000 in gifts and favors on Senate financial documents.

"That's Ted, right over there," Allen said, pointing across the crowded courtroom to an expressionless Stevens.

At the heart of the case is a massive home renovation project in which Allen helped transform the senator's small A-frame cabin into a two-story home with a garage, sauna, wine cellar and wraparound porches.

There were other favors, too, said Allen, who founded the multibillion-dollar oil pipeline company VECO Corp. In late 1999, Allen said, Stevens feared that the Y2K computer bug would crash the power grid and leave his house in the dark.

"So I went and got a generator and put it in," Allen testified.

"Did he ask you for this?" prosecutor Joseph Bottini asked.

"Yeah, he said he needed a generator," Allen responded, his head lowered, as he told jurors that Stevens never paid for the $5,000-to-$6,000 generator.

At the apex of their careers, the two friends held nearly unrivaled power. Stevens was a master of the Senate, a beloved figure in Alaska who steered billions of dollars to his home state. Allen was a self-made millionaire who could summon state lawmakers to his hotel room for drinks and tell them how to vote.

Wearing an electronic hearing aid and speaking slowly because of a head injury that followed a motorcycle accident, Allen at times seemed wistful about those days, and about his lost friendship.

"We really liked each other, you know?" Allen said. "Ted really worked hard. Ted loved Alaska and I loved Alaska."

But the Justice Department corruption investigation targeting Stevens changed everything.

Confronted with overwhelming evidence against him, Allen turned on the senator. The last time the two men spoke, FBI agents were listening in. Since then, Allen has pleaded guilty to bribery, sold his company and turned against his old friends in hopes of reducing his own prison time.

Prosecutors spent much of Tuesday trying to bolster Allen's credibility by discussing a backbreaking career that took him from picking crops to learning to weld to running VECO.

Over the past few days, VECO employees have testified to working long hours at Stevens' home south of Anchorage, building a balcony and a roof, installing a custom staircase and a generator, upgrading the electrical system and more.

The complicated project involved raising the house on stilts and building a new floor below. Workers testified they were pulled off their regular jobs or received nighttime phone calls to work on Stevens' house.

Allen spent 90 minutes on the stand Tuesday and was expected to spend most of Wednesday discussing the house project.

The senator says he never asked Allen for any free work. In fact, he says he made it clear he wanted his friend to send him every bill for the job. If freebies were tacked on, he says, Allen did so without telling him.

Stevens, who spends more time at his home in Washington than in Alaska, says he paid little attention to the project that his wife oversaw. He says he assumed the $160,000 they paid for the project covered everything.

Along with the house project, Stevens is charged with cutting a sweetheart car deal with Allen. In 1999, Stevens traded his average-condition 1964 1/2 Mustang convertible and $5,000 to Allen for a new, loaded $44,000 Range Rover.

Allen testified he thought Stevens got the better of that deal by about $5,000 to $10,000 but said he went through with it "because I liked Ted." Other times, he undercut that claim, saying the Mustang was a good investment that has appreciated.

Prosecutors are moving quickly through their witness list and said they could rest their case as soon as Thursday. Stevens would begin presenting his defense Monday and his lawyers have said they may call several sitting senators as character witnesses.

While Stevens has been tied to the courtroom in Washington, Democratic Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich has been campaigning back home to oust Stevens from his Senate seat. Stevens is hoping for a speedy verdict that will send him back to Alaska victorious in time for Election Day.


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