The corruption trial of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) has officially begun, with a federal prosecutor opening the proceedings by laying out a devastating narrative of alleged criminal behavior by the venerable Alaska Republican.
Brenda Morris, the lead Justice Department prosecutor, called it "a simple case" about how Stevens knowingly failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from Bill Allen, former CEO of oil services company VECO Corp., including renovation of the senator's home in Girdwood, Alaska.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this case is about concealment," Morris told the jurors in her 45-minute opening speech. "You'll learn the defendant never paid VECO or Allen a dime. Not a penny."
Morris added: "At the end of the day, this case is really not a complicated one. It's just a lot of stuff the defendant received."
Morris spelled out the alleged history of the Girdwood home renovation - she called the home "a chalet," painting a vivid picture for jurors - beginning with a 1997 conversation between Stevens and Allen. According to Morris, the renovation work, performed in two phases in 1999-2000 and 2002, cost at least $240,000, and Stevens paid only a portion of that amount."
Morris said Stevens closely tracked his personal finances and therefore cannot claim to be unaware of what was going on.
"The senator at times did pay some of the subcontractors who did work at the chalet," Morris said. "He just never paid VECO. And Bill Allen was VECO
Morris also anticipated what is likely to be a main thrust of Stevens' defense team - Allen is a convicted felon who has already pled guilt
"As you will hear, Bill Allen is not perfect," Morris acknowledged. "In fact, he is a convicted felon."
But Morris said Allen was a member of a very small circle of Stevens' personal friends who were "very loyal" to the senator and did his bidding without asking for repayment.
"The single simple issue of this case is knowledge," Morris said. "What did the defendant know?"