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Senator's request for bill mere window-dressing, witness says

  • Story Highlights
  • Sen. Ted Stevens requested a bill for work done on his home, oilman Bill Allen says
  • Stevens' friend said the senator didn't mean the request and to ignore it, Allen says
  • Stevens is charged with concealing gifts from Allen on financial disclosure forms
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From Paul Courson
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Alaska oilman who bankrolled improvements to Sen. Ted Stevens' chalet testified Wednesday that Stevens requested a bill for some of the work, but he disregarded the request when told that "Ted's just covering his ass."

Bill Allen said he spoke with Bob Persons, a Stevens neighbor and friend who served as a go-between while improvements to the home were taking place.

"He said, 'Aw, Bill, don't worry about getting a bill, Ted's just covering his ass,'" Allen testified. As the courtroom chuckled, he apologized for the expression, saying, "Maybe I shouldn't say that."

On the witness stand for the second day Wednesday, Allen said the request from Stevens came in a note that read, "You owe me a bill. Remember Torricelli. Friendship is one thing, compliance with ethics rules is another. I asked Bob [Persons] to talk with you about this. ... It just has to be done right."

Former New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli, a Democrat, was admonished in 2002 after an ethics committee probe into whether he had improperly accepted gifts from a campaign contributor. Torricelli gave up his re-election bid soon afterward.

Stevens, the Senate's longest-serving Republican, has pleaded not guilty to a seven-count indictment for filing false statements on mandatory financial disclosure forms. Prosecutors say the annual forms should have included hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from Allen, founder of the Veco Corp. -- an oil field contractor and at that time Alaska's biggest employer.

While the company is not known for residential construction, former employees have testified Allen and top aides directly asked them to work on Stevens' home in Girdwood, a ski town outside Anchorage.

Prosecutors plan to play several wiretap recordings to show that Stevens knowingly concealed what they call "free benefits," which included a "sweetheart deal" on a Land Rover, substantial renovations to his home and other unreported goods and services.

In his testimony Wednesday, Allen detailed work Veco employees did on Stevens' home, including improvements to a generator, installation of heat tape to melt the ice on a garage roof, improving plumbing, and putting in a bottom deck.

On Tuesday, Allen acknowledged trading Stevens a new Land Rover vehicle, which he had bought for about $44,000, in exchange for Stevens' 1964 Ford Mustang plus $5,000.

Asked if he thought it was a fair trade, Allen said, "not really," but testified he entered into the agreement "because I liked Ted."

Stevens' defense attorneys won an important victory Tuesday when prosecutors said they would not refer by name to a bribery target Allen has admitted trying to pay -- Stevens' son Ben, an Alaska state lawmaker.

Efforts by Allen to keep the work at the elder Stevens' home quiet have come up at the trial. A handwritten invoice for building materials said "no paper trail," in directions a company bookkeeper attributed to Allen. Another worker testified Allen told him to use "discretion" regarding work at Stevens' home.

The defense team has told the jury Stevens "promptly" paid all the bills he knew about and it was Allen who concealed additional costs. During cross-examination, Stevens' lawyers have tried to discredit documents the prosecution hopes will show both the cost and Stevens' lack of repayment.

Prosecutors are scrambling to recover from several scoldings by U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan over their treatment of a subpoenaed witness, Robert "Rocky" Williams, a top lieutenant to Allen who has not yet been called to testify.

Williams, the on-site foreman at the Stevens home as major construction took place starting in the late 1990s, spent hours with prosecutors in Washington last week preparing to take the stand. Prosecutors then told him he could return to Alaska without testifying, supposedly because of health problems. He remains under subpoena and the defense plans to call him as a witness next week.

The judge questioned why neither he nor the defense team was told about Williams' departure from Washington, and he has directed prosecutors to argue why he should not impose sanctions in the matter.

Stevens, 84, has requested an expedited trial, hoping to clear his name by November because he is running for re-election.

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