WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Stevens' defense lawyer bore in on the prosecution's chief witness on Tuesday, portraying him to a jury as someone who betrayed a longtime friend to protect his fortune.
Brendan Sullivan, the defense lawyer, suggested in his brisk questioning of Bill Allen, an Alaska oil services tycoon, that Allen had agreed to cooperate with prosecutors for an explicit promise by the government not to interfere with a pending sale of his company, Veco, for $380-million.
Stevens, R-Alaska, is facing criminal charges that he knowingly failed to list on Senate disclosure forms some $250,000 in gifts and services from Allen and Veco, largely for renovating the Stevens home in Alaska.
Sullivan also had Allen acknowledge that "an explicit part of the contract" to sell the company "was to cooperate with the government" because the buyers were concerned about whether a corruption investigation he was involved in could damage Veco.
The central dramatic hinge of the trial has been Allen's role in testifying against Stevens, once a close friend. Allen, 71, a rough-hewn high school dropout who went on to become one of the state's wealthiest men, agreed to help prosecutors make their case against Stevens, 84, who has been the state's dominant political figure for decades. Allen agreed to do so on the day in August 2006 that the FBI confronted him with overwhelming evidence including videotapes that he was at the heart of a scheme to bribe state lawmakers.
In his cross-examination of Allen, Sullivan questioned him about the agreement he reached with the government in 2007 in which he pleaded guilty to three felonies. The plea agreement explicitly provided that in exchange for his cooperation, the government would not prosecute Allen's grown children or Veco.
Allen offered a terse "yes" to each of Sullivan's questions, including whether the contract to sell the company included a provision to hold back $70-million of the purchase price to ensure that Veco did not find itself in legal difficulties because of the bribery schemes. Allen acknowledged that the contract, read in court, provided that he was to be paid $30-million on the first anniversary of the sale and the remainder on the third anniversary if Veco remained untouched by the investigation.
The prosecution tried to portray a world in which Stevens' friends regularly tried both to help him and to conceal their efforts from officials.
The prosecution is expected to conclude its case in the next day or so. Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of U.S. District Court scheduled a hearing for this afternoon to consider whether he should declare a mistrial or even dismiss the case in response to contentions by defense lawyers that Justice Department prosecutors have improperly withheld evidence from them.