- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 27, 2008

Employees of an oil services firm Friday testified in detail about doing hundreds of hours of $29-an-hour renovations work on a cabin owned by Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens that federal prosecutors say were not properly reported by the lawmaker.

Two electricians for the now-defunct VECO Corp. said their work on the home included installing a generator and rewiring the cabin’s electrical work to accommodate an extensive addition to the home.

“We were working 10 hours a day, six days a week,” said Roy Dettmer, a VECO electrician who did work to the home in 2000.

Mr. Dettmer, testifying for the government on the second day of Mr. Stevens’s corruption trial in the District, estimated he worked 400 hours on the job at a rate of up to $29 an hour.

Another VECO worker told jurors the company paid him to spend two days installing a $6,000 generator at the home in 1999. A VECO roofer also detailed his work as prosecutors flashed photos of a project that greatly increased the size of the home.

Prosecutors say Mr. Stevens, 84, the Senate’s longest-serving Republican, did not pay for the $250,000 worth of work done to the home, which was among many gifts VECO Corp. gave to Mr. Stevens that he did not report on Senate disclosure forms.

The defense contends that the senator didn’t know the extent of the work or how it was paid for because his wife, Catherine, controls the checkbook.

Defense attorney Brendan Sullivan said Mrs. Stevens controlled the purse strings and paid every bill received for the project, $160,000 in all. The senator was in Washington, 3,300 miles away from the job site, and Mr. Sullivan said Mr. Stevens can’t be held responsible for free materials or any work done at Mr. Allen’s direction that wasn’t billed.

“You cannot report what you don’t know,” Mr. Sullivan said.

One witness also said he was under the impression that Mrs. Stevens was largely responsible for overseeing the project.

Mr. Dettmer also said the senator was not around when the work was being done but VECO founder Bill Allen, who is at the center of the case, visited the cabin to “basically look around to see what was going on.”

VECO has been at the center of a sweeping corruption scandal in Alaska. Allen has pleaded guilty to bribing Alaska state lawmakers and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in a corruption probe that has produced six other convictions.

Prosecutors say Allen, 71, paid for home improvements on the home, which he called “the chalet.”

While prosecutors will try to prove Mr. Stevens secured federal grants and did other favors for VECO, they have stopped short of charging him with bribery. Instead, they have accused the senator of not reporting the gifts, which is still a federal felony that can carry up to five years in prison.

Defense attorneys are expected to attack Allen’s reliability and credibility as a witness, including focusing on a 2001 motorcycle crash that left Allen with brain damage. Allen is expected to testify Monday.

The trial opened weeks before Mr. Stevens tries to win a seventh term in the Senate. He faces what could be a difficult challenge from Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat.

Mr. Stevens was indicted in July and his lawyers requested the federal court trial be held on an accelerated schedule so Mr. Stevens could have a chance to clear his name before Election Day on Nov. 4.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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