U.S. Seeks to Drop Case Against Former Sen. Stevens
The Justice Department filed court papers this morning asking a federal judge to toss out the conviction of former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) on corruption charges.
The move comes as a federal judge was preparing to conduct hearings to probe allegations of prosecutorial misconduct by the team that tried one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress. Stevens, 85, was convicted in October on seven counts of making false statements on financial disclosure forms to hide about $250,000 in gifts and free renovations to his Alaska home. Stevens's attorneys have urged U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan to drop the case and prevent prosecutors from seeking to retry the former senator, who lost a reelection bid about a week after his guilty verdict.
They have argued that prosecutors with the Justice Department's Public Integrity unit withheld key pieces of evidence and mishandled witnesses.
During the trial, Sullivan chastised prosecutors several times for such errors. More recently, the Justice Department was forced to disclose a memo written by an FBI agent who complained of the same things. Sullivan recently held several prosecutors in contempt for failing to comply with a court order. Six members of that prosecution team then withdrew from the case in matters dealing with allegations of misconduct.
In a statement, Attorney General Eric Holder said he and other Justice lawyers had reviewed the case and "concluded that certain information should have been provided to the defense for use at trial."
"In light of this conclusion, and in consideration of the totality of the circumstances of this particular case, I have determined that it is in the interest of justice to dismiss the indictment and not proceed with a new trial," Holder said.
"The Department's Office of Professional Responsibility will conduct a thorough review of the prosecution of this matter," he added. "This does not mean or imply that any determination has been made about the conduct of those attorneys who handled the investigation and trial of this case."
Brendan Sullivan, Stevens' lead attorney, has a meeting scheduled at the Justice Department for 10 a.m. He could not be reached for comment.
Stevens also could not be reached. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who beat Stevens in November, issued a statement saying "the decision by President Obama's Justice Department to end the prosecution of Senator Ted Stevens is reasonable. I always said I didn't think Senator Stevens should serve time in jail and hopefully this decision ensures that is the case."
The Justice Department decision was first reported by National Public Radio this morning.
In a three-page memo filed this morning in U.S. District Court, Justice Department lawyer Paul M. O'Brien, who was brought on to review the case, said he discovered evidence that prosecutors did not turn over notes from an interview in April 2008 with the case's key witness, Bill Allen.
Allen is the former head of Veco, a now defunct oil services company, and a close friend of Stevens who allegedly gave the former senator many of the gifts and funded most of the home renovations.
At that interview, Allen said he did not recall talking to a friend of Stevens about giving a bill to the former senator for work done on the house, O'Brien wrote.
Two prosecutors took notes on that interview with Allen but did not turn them over to the defense, according to O'Brien.
At trial, Allen testified that he was told by a close friend of Stevens to ignore a note the former senator sent the Veco executive seeking a bill for the home remodeling work. "Bill, don't worry about getting a bill" for Stevens, Allen said the friend told him. "Ted is just covering his [expletive]."
The prosecutors' notes also indicated that Allen estimated the work done on Stevens's house to be about $80,000. Veco billing records, assailed as inaccurate by defense lawyers, estimated the work to have cost $188,000.
"The information could have been used by the defendant to cross-examine Bill Allen and in arguments to the jury," O'Brien wrote.
O'Brien added that granting a new trial "is in the interest of justice." But, "based on the totality of circumstances," the Justice Department would not seek a new trial and would instead ask the judge to "set aside the verdict and dismiss the indictment with prejudice."
U.S. Seeks to Drop Case Against Former Sen. Stevens - washingtonpost.com