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Jury Sent Home Early In Stevens' Trial

The jury at the corruption trial of Sen. Ted Stevens has been sent home early, interrupting the testimony of the government's star witness.

The judge announced after a lunch break Wednesday that there would be a recess to "accommodate one of the jurors." The testimony of a wealthy oil pipeline contractor Bill Allen was expected to resume on Thursday.

The contractor had testified that he didn't charge Stevens for renovating his home because he was told that Stevens' requests for invoices were just a ruse. The home improvement project is the centerpiece of a federal case alleging the longest-serving Senate Republican lied on Senate forms about receiving gifts.

Federal prosecutors showed jurors thank-you notes that they say prove Stevens knew he was getting free home renovations.

Stevens is on trial for concealing $250,000 in renovations and other gifts on Senate financial forms. The Senate's longest-serving Republican says he believed he was paying for all the work and had no idea he was getting freebies.

In court Wednesday, prosecutors displayed a handwritten note and an e-mail Stevens sent to Allen, the founder of pipeline giant VECO Corp.

"You continue to amaze me, the way you can keep so many balls in the air at one time," Stevens wrote in an August 2000 note. "It was great to see you at the Bogart movie and I thank you for all that you are doing on the house."

In a lengthier e-mail a month later, Stevens praised the VECO worker overseeing the job.

While the notes bolster the government's case, they are not a smoking gun. Stevens acknowledges that, because he was working in Washington, he asked Allen to oversee the project. But Stevens says he was adamant that he pay all the bills and had no idea Allen was paying much of the costs himself.

The notes also discuss home financing, bolstering Stevens' argument that he intended to pay for the project. And they support Stevens' claim that his wife, Catherine, was the driving force behind the project that transformed the small cabin into a two-story home with a garage, sauna, wine cellar and wraparound porches.

"I've got to tell you, in the long haul I can live and be happy anywhere," Stevens wrote Allen, adding that his wife wanted to put her touch on the house. "You know the ladies."

The senator's longtime fishing and drinking buddy, Allen testified Wednesday that VECO workers did electrical and construction work, installed a rooftop heating system and other projects.

"Who paid for that?" prosecutor Joseph Bottini asked.

"VECO," Allen replied.

Stevens, 84, said he had no idea exactly what was being done or who was doing it because his wife reviewed and paid all the bills. The couple paid $160,000 for the renovations and Stevens says they assumed that covered everything.

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