WASHINGTON - A longtime friend of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens crossed the powerful lawmaker and testified Tuesday as the star witness in the Republican senator's gift-giving trial.
The fiercely loyal Stevens did not acknowledge Bill Allen when he entered the courtroom. The two men barely looked at each other as Allen prepared to testify that he gave the senator $250,000 in home renovations and other gifts.
Stevens, 84, is on trial for not disclosing those gifts on Senate financial documents.
"That's Ted, right over there," Allen said, pointing across the crowded courtroom to an expressionless Stevens.
Allen is the linchpin of the case and federal prosecutors sought to bolster his credibility by asking about a backbreaking career that took him from picking crops to learning to weld to running VECO Corp., a multibillion-dollar oil pipeline company.
At the apex of their careers, the two men 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.
The Justice Department corruption investigation targeting Stevens changed all that.
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 and turned against his old friends in hopes of reducing his own prison time.
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 small A-frame house on stilts and building a new first floor and a wraparound porch.
Prosecutors are counting on Allen to tell jurors that work was part of a long pattern of gift-giving.
Just as Allen's testimony is key to the government's case, discrediting him is essential for Stevens.
The 84-year-old senator says he never asked Allen for any free work and thought his friend was sending him every bill for the job.
Stevens, who spends more time at his home in Washington than in Alaska, says he paid little attention to the project. He said his wife oversaw the renovations and paid $160,000 for them. Stevens says he assumed that covered everything.
If freebies were tacked onto the job, he said, Allen did so without telling him. Because the senator's wife handled all the finances, he says there's no way he could have known Allen was adding on work.