Friday, April 3, 2009

The "Vindication" of Senator Ted Stevens

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Wednesday that the Justice Department will request dismissal of the indictment and seven convictions of Senator Ted Stevens for corruption. The dismissal is “in the interest of justice.”

The government’s prosecution was so fundamentally flawed that Judge Emmet Sullivan, the trial judge, admonished the prosecutors before trial, excluded evidence during trial, and then held the prosecutors in contempt of court after the trial for failure to produce evidence. The prosecutors claimed they couldn’t find the documents, knowledge of which surfaced when an FBI agent informed the court of their existence. The prosecutors also knowingly introduced false testimony into evidence. The Justice Department removed the prosecution team from the case and is investigating their actions.

The case, brought by the Public Ethics Section of the Justice Department, alleged the Senator failed to list on his Senate disclosure statement $250,000 in gifts and services, mostly on renovations of his chalet, from Bill Allen, Chief Executive of the Veco Oil Services Company. The jury convicted the Senator on all seven counts on October 27, 2008, a week before the November election.

Prosecutors must disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense. The primary dispute in this case involved the testimony of Bill Allen. Allen told FBI investigators in a 2008 interview that the cost of the disputed renovations came to $80,000 and that he could not remember a critical conversation regarding billing with Bob Persons, a friend of the Senator. At trial though Allen had a photographic memory of the conversation and claimed the costs were $250,000. Allen testified that even though the Senator requested a bill for the work done, Persons told Allen to ignore the bill because it was sent to protect the Senator.

Such miraculous recollections are more common than one might think, especially when the condition of a plea bargain is to rat out another. Senator Stevens’ defense claimed he had paid $160,000 for the work on the chalet.

The defense should be able though to argue the credibility of the witness under these circumstances.

The false testimony was by David Anderson, a Veco employee, who listed 280 hours of work in October 2000. Grand Jury documents, which Judge Sullivan ordered released to the defense, showed that Anderson was not in Alaska from late September to November. In other words, a significant amount of the billing on the house was fraudulent.

Another prospective government witness, Robert Williams, also billed fraudulent hours, but then suddenly went ill before the trail, went home to Alaska, and was not called to testify.

Raymond J. Donovan was Executive Vice president of Schiavone Construction Company when President Reagan appointed him Secretary of Labor in 1981. Donovan and six other defendants were indicted by a Bronx Grand Jury of grand larceny and fraud in a construction contract won by Schiavone. The underlying charge was that the construction company, based in New Jersey, was acting illegally in conjunction with the Genovese crime family.

A jury on May 25, 1087 acquitted the defendants of all charges, whereupon Donovan asked the prescient question: “Which office do I go to get my reputation back?”

Which office does Senator Stevens go to get his Senate seat back?

He lost reelection by less than 4,000 votes. The conviction fed into the impression of the Republican Party as the “Party of Corruption”. Collateral damage included the probable loss of Senator Norm Coleman’s Senate seat in Minnesota and perhaps a few other Senate and House seats.

Prosecutors, even local prosecutors, possess great power. The criminal law presumes we are innocent until proven guilty. Often though, as with Governor Blagojevich, we presume the indicted are guilty. Without the ability to afford a full scale defense, the accussed will often be unable to overcome the powers of the prosecution. If though they possess the funds to retain the best counsel, then as with Mike Nifong’s attempt to railroad the three Duke Lacrosse players, they can prove their innocence.

Federal prosecutors have the full weight of the federal government behind them, including the investigatory powers of the FBI

Senator Stevens, the Senator with the “Bridge to Nowhere,” at the minimum showed bad judgment, but may well have been corrupt.

The Justice Department had previously obtained convictions of Republican Congressmen Randy ”Duke” Cunningham and Robert Ney, indicted Congressman Rick Renzi, as well as convictions of Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist, and Scooter Libby. Now came the chance to add one of the most powerful Senators to the list.

Yet, the prosecutors blew it. Prosecutorial misconduct was probably unnecessary. Almost any D.C. jury would have eagerly convicted Bush Administration and Congressional Republicans of almost anything.

Significantly, contra to Justice Department guidelines, they filed the indictment in the middle of an election cycle, thereby affecting the November elections

The Justice Department prosecutors are ironically in the Office of Public Integrity. The Office of Public Integrity is now being investigated by the Office of Professional Responsibility.

Former Democratic Governor Don Seligman of Alabama believes he is the victim of a Karl Rove plot to jail him. Unfortunately for the Governor, his bribery conviction was affirmed by both the trial court and the Court of Appeals.

He may be right, but the Bush Justice Department, as with Senator Stevens, aggressively prosecuted Republicans.

Maybe the Office of Public Integrity was simply incompetent.

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