CBSN

Prosecutors: Sen. Stevens Betrayed Public

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and his daughter Beth Stevens, arrive at the U.S. Distrit Court in Washington Thursday Sept. 25, 2008.
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
Sen. Ted Stevens is a crafty politician whose decades in the Senate taught him how to bag hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gifts without getting noticed, prosecutors said Thursday in his corruption trial.

During opening arguments, prosecutor Brenda Morris said the Alaska senator accepted free home renovations and other gifts. And she said he lied on Senate forms about those gifts, thumbing his nose at the public's right to know.

Stevens is the Senate's longest-serving Republican, having held his seat since 1968.

"You do not survive politics in this town for that long without being very, very smart, very, very deliberate, very forceful and, at the same time, knowing how to fly under the radar," Morris told jurors.

Observers packed the courtroom to watch the trial of one of the Senate's legendary figures, and court officials ushered others into an overflow courtroom, which was also nearly full.

The key to the case is a complicated 2000 home renovation project in which Stevens' small chalet outside Anchorage was jacked up on stilts and a new first-floor was built.

Rather than hiring a construction contractor, Stevens relied on his friend Bill Allen, the chairman of oil services firm VECO Corp., to manage the project.

Stevens says he paid every bill he received for the project. Morris rejected that argument. She said Stevens set up a deal so he wouldn't have to receive bills from VECO. She said he met with a company architect and got free labor from several employees.

"We reach for the yellow pages, he reached for VECO," Morris said, "and the defendant never paid a dime."

Just as Stevens relied on Allen for such favors, prosecutors say Allen tapped the senator for help winning government grants and navigating Washington's bureaucracy.

Stevens is not charged with accepting bribes, however. He is charged with concealing the gifts on Senate financial documents. He faces up to five years in prison on seven counts of making false statements.

He is also locked in a tough re-election battle for a Senate seat he's held for decades.