- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 21, 2008

A federal judge Wednesday denied a request by Sen. Ted Stevens that he be tried in his home state of Alaska on charges he lied on federal financial forms about receiving gifts from an oil services company.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan’s ruling means Mr. Stevens’ trial will be held in the District instead of in a state where constituents nicknamed him “Uncle Ted” and the first stop for many involved in the case could have been Ted Stevens International Airport.

Mr. Stevens, 84 and the longest serving Republican in the Senate, was indicted in July on charges he lied about receiving $250,000 in gifts and home renovations from an oil services company.

Mr. Stevens has maintained his innocence. He announced Wednesday that his lawyers are seeking approval from the Senate Ethics Committee to create a legal defense fund.

“The legal defense fund will comply with all Senate disclosure rules and applicable laws,” according to a statement released by his office.

His trial is expected to begin Sept. 24. Defense Attorney Brendan Sullivan made the unusual request for an exceptionally speedy trial in the hopes that Mr. Stevens can clear his name before the general election.

Mr. Stevens, who has served in the Senate for 40 years, faces six challengers Tuesday in a Republican primary.

If he survives the primary, Mr. Stevens will likely face Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich in November. Recent polls show Mr. Begich, a Democrat, in the lead, particularly since Mr. Stevens was indicted.

Mr. Sullivan, the defense attorney, argued that keeping the trial in D.C. could hurt Mr. Stevens re-election chances: “If he’s in D.C., he cannot campaign.” He also criticized the federal government for bringing up the charges so close to the election.

“I have no reasons in the world to understand why this case couldn’t have been brought after the election,” he said.

Judge Sullivan suggested not holding court on Fridays to let Mr. Stevens fly to Alaska and campaign on weekends.

The judge also dismissed arguments that the location of the trial should be moved because potentially dozens of witnesses will have to travel from Alaska to testify.

Mr. Stevens’ lawyer said he described the high costs of bringing defense witnesses from Alaska to the District, but Judge Sullivan remain undeterred, suggesting Mr. Sullivan research whether the government would pay those travel expenses.

Mr. Sullivan was also unsuccessful in arguing that the case should be heard in Alaska because it is essentially the scene of the accusations against his client.

According to the indictment, Mr. Stevens accepted gifts from Bill Allen, the owner of VECO, a company that provided oil-pipeline services but is now defunct. Those gifts included a wraparound deck, a new first floor and an expensive gas grill for Mr. Stevens’ home in Girwood, Alaska.

Allen was among those ensnared in a corruption probe that has so far netted seven convictions. As part of his plea agreement, Allen agreed to cooperate with the FBI in exchange for leniency. That cooperation included allowing investigators to record conversations between him and Mr. Stevens.

While prosecutors say Mr. Stevens accepted gifts from VECO, they have not charged him with doing “quid pro quo” favors for the company in return. Instead, Mr. Stevens is charged with failing to include the gifts from VECO on his Senate disclosure form, a violation of federal law.

“They were filed here, thus any falsification of the forms occurred here,” Judge Sullivan explained as one his reasons for declining to move the trial to Alaska.

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