A powerful businessman pressured a contractor to withhold a hefty bill for renovations done on the cabin of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, the contractor said Wednesday at the senator's corruption trial.
Augie Paone testified about a meeting with multimillionaire Bill Allen, chief of oil services company VECO Corp., in 2002 over the disputed $13,393 bill for carpentry and other work.
Allen, who was overseeing the job for his old friend Stevens, "stated maybe I should eat the bill or look at it as a political contribution," the defense witness told jurors.
"I was shocked," Paone said. "I knew I was in a bind because I knew I couldn't really do anything."
Paone testified he eventually got paid months later by tacking Stevens' tab onto an invoice for a separate job at Allen's home.
Stevens, 84, is fighting charges that he lied on financial disclosure forms about more than $250,000 in home improvements and other gifts from VECO. His attorneys say his wife paid every bill received by the couple — $160,000 in all — and that Allen kept him in the dark about the extent of the work and its cost.
Senator plans to testify
Meanwhile, Robert Carey, a Stevens attorney, told the court that the senator plans to testify.
Carey said Stevens would be among the final three witnesses for the defense. First expected to take the stand were a restaurateur close to Stevens and the senator's wife, Catherine.
On cross-examination Wednesday, Paone testified that it was clear that VECO workers were doing many of the upgrades that transformed a modest A-frame cabin into a handsome two-story home. He also said he was worried it might lead to trouble.
"I was concerned that the senator wasn't getting billed for some of that stuff, and I was concerned something like this might happen," he testified.
Paone was one of the final witnesses for the defense.
Praise from Sen. Hatch
So far in the defense case, jurors have heard character witnesses like Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Olympic swimmer-turned-broadcaster Donna de Varona sing Stevens' praises. When asked Tuesday about Stevens' reputation among colleagues, Hatch called him one of the "legends of the U.S. Senate."
The defendant is a "very, very solid, decent, fine, honorable, decent man," Hatch said.
Stevens, a patriarch of Alaska politics for generations, has languished in the courtroom in Washington as a Democratic opponent back home mounts a strong challenge to the seat the senator has held for 40 years.