U.S. Plans to Drop Case Against Former Senator From Alaska

Published: April 1, 2009

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department moved on Wednesday morning to drop all charges against former Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, who narrowly lost his seat last year shortly after being convicted on seven felony counts of ethics violations.

In a stunning development, Justice Department lawyers told a federal court that they had discovered a new instance of prosecutorial misconduct in the case and asked that the convictions be voided. There would be no new trial in the case.

Mr. Stevens, who is 85, had been the longest serving Republican in the history of the Senate. He had been charged with lying on Senate disclosure forms by concealing an estimated $250,000 worth of goods and services he received, mostly to renovate a chalet he owned in Alaska. Prosecutors said he received most of the goods and services from Bill Allen, a longtime friend who had made a fortune by providing services to Alaska’s booming oil industry.

But in their filing on Wednesday, government lawyers said that trial prosecutors had concealed from Mr. Stevens’s defense lawyers the notes from an interview with Mr. Allen that raised significant doubts about the charges. Among other things, Mr. Allen asserted in the interview that the work on the Stevens home was worth only about $80,000, they said.

Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., who made the decision to move to drop the charges, said in a statement that "I have concluded that certain information should have been provided to the defense for use at trial.” He said it was "in the interests of justice” to dismiss the indictment and forgo any new trial.

Senator Mark Begich, the Democrat who defeated Mr. Stevens in November, issued a statement calling the Justice Department’s decision “reasonable.”

“I always said I didn’t think Senator Stevens should serve time in jail, and hopefully this decision ensures that is the case,” said Mr. Begich, a former mayor of Anchorage. “It’s time for Senator Stevens, his family and Alaskans to move on and put this behind us.”Mr. Stevens had risen to become one of the most powerful figures in Congress, helping to direct enormous sums of money to Alaska, whose history as a state virtually paralleled his career. His lawyers tried unsuccessfully to get his trial shifted there.

Mr. Holder noted that the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility was conducting a review of the prosecutors’ conduct in the case, but he said that no conclusion had yet been reached.

Even so, it appeared that the prosecutors who tried Mr. Stevens on ethics charges would themselves now face ethics charges.

Judge Emmet Sullivan had delayed sentencing Mr. Stevens, who faced a prison term, because of several previous disclosures of prosecutorial misconduct. The judge repeatedly scolded prosecutors during the trial over a series of incidents in which they concealed important information from defense lawyers that might have been used by the defense.

Judge Sullivan recently ordered that some of the government lawyers involved be held in contempt of court, including the two top officials of the Justice Department’s public integrity division, the section that prosecutes official corruption.

In the new filing on Wednesday, the government said that it had recently discovered previously undisclosed notes made by prosecutors of an interview with Mr. Allen on April 15, 2008. In the interview, Mr. Allen was asked about a note he received from Senator Stevens on Oct. 6, 2002, discussing the situation of former Senator Bob Torricelli, a New Jersey Democrat who was forced to resign from office over the issue of failing to disclose gifts.

The Justice Department said the notes from the interview showed that Mr. Allen made different statements about that exchange than he had during his testimony at the trial. Mr. Stevens’s lawyers should have had those notes to help them cross-examine Mr. Allen, the department said on Wednesday.

The motion said that in addition to asking that the indictment be voided, the government had determined, based on the totality of the circumstances, that it would not seek a new trial of Mr. Stevens.

Judge Sullivan first displayed his annoyance with the prosecutors’ conduct almost four weeks before Mr. Stevens was convicted. On Oct. 3, the judge almost declared a mistrial after discovering that prosecutors had not told the defense team about an F.B.I. interview with the prosecution’s chief witness.

“How does the court have confidence that the public integrity section has public integrity?” Judge Sullivan asked that day.

The chief prosecutor, Brenda Morris, apologized for her team’s mistakes. But she also called the errors careless, not purposeful.

But last month, an F.B.I. agent who had worked on the investigation disputed that characterization of events, accusing prosecutors and a fellow agent of willfully concealing evidence from Mr. Stevens’s lawyers.

The agent, Chad Joy, wrote in the complaint that he had “witnessed or learned of serious violations of policy, rules, and procedures as well as possible criminal violations.”

Days later, Judge Sullivan held Ms. Morris and three other members of the prosecuting team — William Welch, Kevin Driscoll and Patty Stemler — in contempt after the Justice Department failed to produce documents the judge had requested to assess Mr. Joy’s complaint.

Borrowed from the New York Times.


Boudinboy said…
The prosecutors, Brenda Morris, Patty Stemler,and later Kevin Driscoll are all Democrats. Signicant? Probably. Sad? Yes. Did Mr. Stevens deserve an unfair trial? Nobody deserves that. He is deserved an apology from all the Alaskans and American who jumped on the convenient, political bandwagon for selfish reasons. Mrs. Pallin suffered the same fate-at the hands of the media. And, by the way-I'm a registered Democrat-for now.
Meggie said…
I thought of you this AM when I heard the charges against Mr. Stevens were dropped.
Dave said…
Boudinboy - Everyone deserves a fair shake.

Meggie - Thanks!
RuthieJ said…
Hi Dave, I thought of you when I saw this on the news the other night. I remembered your post from last fall about Senator Stevens and while I'm glad they dropped the charges, it's way too bad it took them so long to do the right thing--for him and all his supporters in Alaska.
Coffee Maker said…
it seems fitting that they released the news about dropping the charges against Ted Stevens on April 1st