Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Live from the Ted Stevens Trial--Day Five

September 26, 2008

Washington, D.C.--As it did yesterday afternoon after the opening statements, the prosecution plows through a parade of construction tradesmen. The testimony over the two days shows in fine granular detail that VECO did tens and tens of thousands of dollars worth on Ted Stevens' chalet and did not run that work and for the billing for it on any kind of standard businesslike basis.

John Hess, the guy that did the architectural work for VECO testifies Thursday about how he met with Stevens and Allen at Jens (which is one of Anchorage's nicest restaurants) for about an hour and a half, with about 50 percent of that time spent on Stevens and Allen catching up and the rest designing the remodeling job.

Other witnesses testify about three VECO employees spending two days installing a VECO-supplied backup generator at the chalet. One of those VECO employees (Derrick Awad) also traveled from Anchorage to Girdwood--a round trip of about 80 miles--at Allen's direction to clean snow off of Stevens' home. You had to wonder whether the jurors—who very likely all make less than $100,000 per year—wondered who might do such chores for them, given that
Doug Alke, another electrician who worked with Awad on installing the generator, said that he coded his time for the work as VECO overhead, rather than billing a specific client. Alke estimated that he spent 20 to 24 hours on the work, including his time to come back on a third day to check on how it was working.

Roy Dettmer--then a journeyman electrician, only one step below the master level he has currently attained--tells the jury that he spent worked 10 hours a day six days a week for four months rewiring the house. The gestalt was odd--the electrician said that he went every morning down to the Port of Anchorage (where VECO had other work) to sign in with his badge and then drove the 45 miles down to Girdwood, worked his shift on the chalet, and then drove back to the Port of Anchorage to badge out before he could get back to the hotel he was staying in. Dettmer estimated that he spent approximately 400 hours working on the chalet, and he had an apprentice working with him part of that time.

The cross-examinations of the tradesmen were generally short and handled by Robert Cary, the second-ranking of the four to five Williams & Connolly lawyers usually in court. Cary asked one carpenter, Dan McBirney, if VECO normally worked in home remodeling. McBirney said no.

Both the prosecution and the defense will focus on that last fact based on entirely different theories. The prosecution argues that Stevens picked VECO to remodel the chalet despite the corporation's inexperience in residential renovations because Stevens knew that VECO CEO Bill Allen would give him a sweetheart deal on the work. The defense contends that VECO ended up doing so much work on the chalet because the company's inexperience in that area led it to make big mistakes and have to re-do a lot of tasks to compensate.

Staying with the theme that Allen deliberately kept Stevens in the dark about how much VECO did for him, the defense also focused on how infrequently Ted Stevens showed up at the chalet during the renovations in 2000 and 2001. Only one of the four tradesmen testifying today had seen him at the job site, and that was only once.

A VECO bookkeeper, Cheryl Boomershine, finally perked up the defense table by offering evidence of a cover-up of all that work Stevens was getting from VECO. Boomershine said that when she asked questions about a handwritten expense report on the construction project, she got back the cryptic note "No paper trail" with the reason offered as "per Bill Allen." She testified that VECO records showed that VECO had provided $188,928.82 in labor and supplies to the construction projects, but Stevens had reimbursed none of it. The only checks coming in from Stevens were for reimbursements for two charter flights, and those checks totaled $2,130.69.

The witnesses moved along so quickly, though, that the speed created a problem for the prosecution. Lunchtime happened early when the government could not produce a witness to keep going, and the judge threatened the prosecution that he would cut short the case if the United States could not keep a steady flow of witnesses next week. The prosecution promised Bill Allen on Monday and a number of other people flying in to Washington over the weekend to keep things moving.

The day ended with a decision to defer the decision over whether Allen can be grilled over whether he is shading his testimony against Ted Stevens partly in hopes that he won't be prosecuted for underage sex with the daughter of a former employee. Allen has previously denied any sexual involvement with the girl, now an adult.

This issue of Allen’s alleged involvement with the underage girl is one of at three times that the 71-year-old former CEO’s personal relations with females have come into these prosecutions involving official misconduct. The first time was when former State Rep. Vic Kohring’s lawyer suggested that Allen’s cash payments to Kohring should be considered gifts and not bribes in part because the men had bonded over Kohring being was married to a Russian woman and Allen once having a Russian girlfriend. (This argument didn’t persuade the jury, and Kohring’s in federal prison now.)

The second instance arose in this case in pre-trial skirmishing over the testimony of Dave Anderson, a nephew of Allen’s who helped supervise some of VECO’s work on the house renovations. Anderson’s relationship with Allen reportedly went sour after he started dating a woman who had previously been involved with his uncle.

The trial’s over for the jurors until Monday. There’s no rest for the judge and the lawyers, however, who will laboring over the weekend on evidentiary matters like how much Bill Allen can be asked about his fears of prosecution in that investigation of alleged sexual abuse of a minor.

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