Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator and a figure in Alaska politics since before statehood, was indicted Tuesday on seven counts of failing to disclose thousands of dollars in services he received from a company that helped renovate his home.
Stevens, the first sitting U.S. senator to face federal indictment since 1993, has been dogged by a federal investigation into his home renovation project and whether he pushed for fishing legislation that also benefited his son, an Alaska lobbyist.
The investigation has upended Alaska state politics and cast scrutiny on Stevens - who is running for re-election this year - and on his congressional colleague, Rep. Don Young of Alaska, who is also under investigation.
CBS News reports all seven false statement counts relate to the statements he made on financial disclosure forms from 1999 to the 2006 form. The indictment says Stevens "knowingly and intentionally sought to conceal and cover up his receipt of things of value by filing Financial Disclosure Forms that contained false statements and omissions."
The indictment unsealed Tuesday says the items included: home improvements to his vacation home in Alaska, including a new first floor, garage, wraparound deck, plumbing, electrical wiring; as well as a Viking gas grill, furniture and tools. He also was accused of failing to report swapping an old Ford for a new Land Rover to be driven by one of his children.
Prosecutors said Stevens received more than $250,000 in gifts and services from VECO Corp., a powerful oil services contractor, and its executives.
The former CEO of VECO, Bill Allen, cooperated in the case against Stevens.
Stevens has been the subject of a wide-ranging investigation -- and with this announcement -- Stevens becomes the highest level politician charged in the department's crackdown on alleged corruption, CBS News reports.
Prosecutors said Stevens "took multiple steps to continue" receiving things from oil services company VECO Corp., and its founder, Bill Allen. At the time, the indictment says, Allen and other VECO employees were soliciting Stevens for "multiple official actions .... knowing that Stevens could and did use his official position and his office on behalf of VECO during that same time period."
VECO's requests included funding and other aid for the oil services company's projects and partnerships in Pakistan and Russia. It also included federal grants from several agencies - as well as help in building a national gas pipeline in Alaska's North Slope Region, according to the indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.
Justice Department said Stevens will not be arrested and will be allowed to turn himself in.
"Once again and for what seems like the hundredth time it's not necessarily the crime it's the cover-up. The indictment apparently alleges that Stevens made false statements to federal investigators, the same sorts of charges that brought down people like Martha Stewart and Lewis Scooter Libby," CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen said.
"As a purely legal matter, Stevens may continue to serve in the Senate even while he defends himself against the charges," Cohen adds. "But these types of false statement trials take up an extraordinary amount of time and energy, not to mention money, and it's hard to see how he play both roles, Senator and Defendant, successfully."
However, under Senate rules, Tuesday's indictment will require Stevens to give up his post as senior Republican on the Appropriations Committee.
Stevens responded to the charges in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.
"I have proudly served this nation and Alaska for over 50 years," he said. "My public service, began when I served in World War II. It saddens me to learn that these charges have been brought against me. I have never knowingly submitted a false disclosure form required by law as a US Senator. In accordance with Senate Republican Conference rules, I have temporarily relinquished by vice chairmanship and ranking positions until I am absolved of these charges. The impact of these charges on my family disturbs me greatly. I am innocent of these charges and I intend to prove that."
On Capitol Hill, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., called Stevens a hero, adding, however, he didn't know any details about the indictment. "All of us have time that we have to deal with that are tough," Warner said. "I wish him the best."
"I've known Ted Stevens for 28 years and have always known him to be impeccably honest,' said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., another longtime colleague.
Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said, "I have served with Sen. Stevens my entire congressional career. It's a sad day for him, us, but you know I believe in the American system of justice and he's presumed innocent."
Young, who is under scrutiny for his fundraising practices involving VECO, said Tuesday, "I hope people will not rush to judgment and will let the judicial process work. The process is based on being innocent until proven guilty."
He called Stevens "one of the most effective and honest legislators I have ever worked with."
On the political front, it's one more piece of very bad news for the Republican Party said CBS News.com senior political editor Vaughn Ververs. "This indictment stems from a long-running scandal that has really eroded the Republican brand in a state that has been a lock for them for decades at the federal level," Ververs said. "Stevens was already considered a vulnerable incumbent facing re-election this November by most political analysts and this won't help improve those chances. Combine the scandal with Barack Obama's interest in putting the state in play and Alaska could find itself a real battleground this fall."
Stevens has coasted to re-election six times in Alaska, but was in what was viewed as the toughest race of his career this year against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begicha.
A moderate Republican, Stevens has served almost 40 years in the Senate, where he unabashedly steered money to toward his remote and sparsely populated home state. He often drew criticism, however, for going around the traditional appropriations process to fund his pet projects.
The Justice Department has closely followed that money, looking for where it intersects with the senator's son, Ben.
A lobbyist and former state senator, Ben Stevens was paid as a consultant for many in the fishing industry who benefited from legislation his father drafted. When Ted Stevens created a $30 million marketing fund for Alaska seafood, Ben Stevens helped decide which companies got the money. Some were his clients.
Ben Stevens also had financial ties to a company that stood to make millions off a piece of federal legislation his father wrote. But he repeatedly has said he never lobbied his father and both men have dismissed such criticism for years.
In other cases involving indictments of senators:
- On April 2, 1993, Republican Sen. David Durenburger of Minnesota was indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington on charges of conspiring to file fraudulent claims for Senate reimbursement of $3,825 in lodging expenses during 1987 and 1988. The indictment was later dismissed. After new charges were filed, Durenberger pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of converting public funds to his personal use. He was sentenced to one year of probation and a $1,000 fine.
- Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas was indicted by a state grand jury on Sept. 27, 1993, in Austin, Texas. She was charged with official misconduct and tampering with evidence to impede an investigation. On Feb. 11, 1994, a judge ordered her acquittal after the district attorney refused to present his case.