WASHINGTON — A federal judge scolded prosecutors Monday for sending a potentially important witness in the trial of Sen. Ted Stevens back to Alaska, a move that defense lawyers said was intended to hide exculpatory evidence.
"The government is treading in some very shallow water," U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said. "I am just flabbergasted."
Stevens, one of the most powerful Republicans in the Senate, is on trial in Washington on charges that he lied on financial disclosure forms to hide accepting $250,000 in gifts and extensive renovations to his home in Girdwood, near Anchorage. Prosecutors allege that a large part of the renovations and many of the gifts were financed or overseen by Veco, a now-defunct oil services company.
Reacting to a defense motion to throw out the case, Sullivan said he was distressed to learn that prosecutors had allowed Robert "Rocky" Williams, a former Veco employee, to return to Alaska last week even though he had been subpoenaed to testify. Williams's name has come up during testimony by construction workers and a bookkeeper who have said Williams worked or supervised others at Stevens's home in 2000 and 2001.
Sullivan rejected the defense request but asked both sides to submit arguments whether he should sanction prosecutors.
The Justice Department lawyers apologized for sending Williams home without alerting defense attorneys or the judge. They did not disclose why Williams returned to Alaska but alluded to personal or health problems. They said they no longer thought they needed him to prove the case.