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Ex-oil exec testifies in Stevens’ corruption trial

In the latest sign of corruption problems for Republicans, a corporate executive testified Friday that his employees worked for months to remodel the Alaska home of Sen. Ted Stevens.
/ Source: The Associated Press

In the latest sign of corruption problems for Republicans, a corporate executive testified Friday that his employees worked for months to remodel the Alaska home of Sen. Ted Stevens.

Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator, is under scrutiny in a corruption investigation that also is targeting Alaska state officials.

Bill Allen, former chief executive of oil services company VECO, testified that he spent more than $400,000 to bribe state legislators and for work at Stevens’ house in the ski resort town of Girdwood. He said VECO also paid at least two contractors, a plumber and a carpenter, for work on the house. The project in 2000 more than doubled the size of the four-bedroom structure.

Under questioning at the trial of a former state lawmaker, Allen said: “I don’t think there was a lot of materials” bought for the Stevens remodeling, but “there was some labor.”

VECO’s business is providing engineering and construction services for oil companies; it does not do home construction. The key question is whether Stevens paid for the renovations or received a gift from Allen and VECO. The senator insists he paid from his own funds.

It was less than a year ago that Republicans lost control of Congress, in part because Democrats made corruption a major campaign issue. Stevens is one of several senators with ethics problems, complicating an already challenging political landscape for Republicans in 2008.

Stevens spokesman Aaron Saunders declined to comment on the testimony, but referred reporters to a previous statement from the senator.

“I continue to believe this investigation should proceed to its conclusion without any appearance that I have attempted to influence its outcome,” that statement said. “I will continue my policy of not commenting on this investigation until it has concluded.”

Stevens denies charges
In July, Stevens told reporters: “I will tell you we paid every bill that was given to us with our own money,” referring to himself and his wife. “She works and I work. That was our own money.”

In the Senate since 1968, Stevens gained prominence as a powerful and feared chairman of the Appropriations Committee while his party held the majority.

He also was Senate president pro tem, which put him third in line for the presidency after the vice president and the House speaker.

Stevens is known for directing millions of federal dollars to Alaska, never apologizing for the pork-barrel politics that some feel has gone too far.

Other GOP scandals
Even a politically wounded Stevens would mount a strong bid for re-election next year, GOP insiders say. Democrats, hoping for an upset, are urging Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich to challenge him.

The Alaska testimony comes on the heels of the revelation that Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor after an undercover sting in an airport men’s room.

Earlier, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., acknowledged that his phone number appeared in records of a Washington area business that prosecutors have said was a front for prostitution.

The Senate Ethics Committee is looking into allegations that Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., tried to influence a federal prosecutor in an election probe of Democrats.

Of those, only Vitter’s seat is not up for re-election next year.

Witness admitted to bribery charges
Allen — a longtime Stevens friend and political supporter — and former VECO Vice President Rick Smith in May pleaded guilty to extortion, conspiracy and bribery of legislators.

The workers at Stevens’ home were VECO employees, probably one to four at a time, Allen said. He said the work on the home lasted for “probably a couple of months.” Later, he testified it might have been as much as six months.

Allen said he also gave Stevens some used furniture, and Allen visited the site every month or two. “Most of the time I was gone with VECO business,” Allen said.

The remodeling job at Stevens’ home was fraught with problems from the start. He estimated it would cost about $85,000 and told city building officials he would be his own contractor.

The plan was to raise Stevens’ single-level home and, beneath it, construct a new first floor with two bedrooms, a game room and sauna. Complete with a wraparound porch, the completed project would be twice the size of the original, modest house in the town of Girdwood, about 40 miles south of Anchorage. Building records don’t indicate how things went wrong, but somehow the framing was botched and help was called in to fix it.

Allen also said the plea agreement he signed admitted payments to Stevens’ son Ben, whom Allen had hired as a consultant in after he left college in 1995. The consulting work continued after Ben Stevens was appointed to the Alaska state Senate in 2002.

“It was $4,000 per month,” Allen said.

VECO is one of the state’s largest oil field services company, with more than 4,000 employees. The company operates around the world but more than half of its work is in Alaska, supporting the oil industry with service and maintenance contracts, according to Allen.