A federal jury today found Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens guilty on all seven counts in his public corruption trial.
Stevens, 84, was convicted of intentionally failing to report more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations on Senate financial disclosure forms between 2000 and 2006. Prosecutors said Stevens wanted to conceal the primary source of the free goods—the senator’s longtime friend Bill Allen, former owner of oil services company VECO. Each count carries a maximum of five years in prison.
Stevens, who was defiant when he took the stand earlier this month, remained as headstrong leaving the courtroom Monday afternoon with his wife, Catherine, a partner in the D.C. office of Mayer Brown. “It’s not over yet. It’s not over yet,” he said.
The senator was represented by a high-profile defense team from Williams & Connolly, led by Brendan Sullivan Jr. Sullivan, who wrapped his arm around Stevens and shook his head as the foreman read “guilty” seven times, declined to comment.
Stevens is the first sitting senator in nearly 30 years to go to trial on criminal charges.
After the verdict was read, Williams & Connolly partner Robert Cary said Stevens would move for a new trial, and U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan scheduled a motions hearing for Feb. 25.
Outside the courthouse, Justice Department prosecutors issued a brief statement. “This has been a long and hard-fought trial,” said Matthew Friedrich, acting head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The department is proud of this team, not only for the trial but for the investigation which led to it. This investigation continues, as does our commitment to holding public officials accountable when they violate our laws.”
Though prison may be looming for the senator, many D.C. criminal defense lawyers believe he will get no more than six months behind bars, if that. They point out that his age and public service will weigh on the sentencing decision.
The verdict, however, is likely to derail Stevens’ bid for re-election. The longest-serving Republican senator, Stevens is in a tight race against his Democratic rival, a race that most observers said hinged on the outcome of the trial.
The verdict was handed down on a day when Judge Sullivan restarted jury deliberations. On Sunday night, the judge decided to replace a juror who had departed abruptly because of the death of her father. Sullivan said that the court had lost contact with that juror. An alternate took her place Monday morning.
The conviction is a win for the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, which had made some serious gaffes during the month-long trial. Judge Sullivan found prosecutors had failed to turn over exculpatory information to the defense and had presented false evidence to the jury. As a result, the government was barred from using some evidence and the jury was told to ignore certain testimony.
“Given how much trouble the prosecution had with this case, the outcome is somewhat surprising,” says Covington & Burling partner Robert Kelner, who chairs the firm’s election and political law practice group. “But the government pretty much always has the edge in criminal corruption cases like this, particularly in the District of Columbia.”
Lawyers in the white-collar criminal defense bar point to the senator’s testimony as a game-changer for the prosecution. Stevens showed his irascible side, repeatedly challenging the lead prosecutor, Brenda Morris, principal deputy chief of the Public Integrity Section.
“Once a defendant takes the stand, everything else is eclipsed,” says Robert Bennett, a partner with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. “If juries like you, they tend to increase your odds of winning. If they don’t, it tends to work against you.”
Brad Simon, a former federal prosecutor turned white-collar criminal defense attorney with Simon & Partners in New York, says it appeared that Stevens was focused more on his re-election campaign than on the trial.
“I think they were so confident in a victory, their main concern was getting him vindicated before the election,” says Simon. “Is another term so important that you would risk your liberty for that?”
The Alaska Democratic Party is calling for Stevens to step down immediately.
Bennett calls the conviction “a great tragedy” that will be an eye-opener for other members of Congress.
“He was a lion of the Senate and did a lot of good work in his day. It’s too bad it came to this,” says Bennett. “Other members of Congress will realize that Justice isn’t afraid to bring these kinds of cases. Nobody is above the law.”