Jurors in Ted Stevens’ corruption trial discovered a mistake in the Alaska senator’s indictment Monday, an embarrassing gaffe for Justice Department prosecutors that could benefit the senator.
Stevens, the Senate’s longest-serving Republican, is charged with lying on Senate financial documents about $250,000 in home renovations and gifts he received from a millionaire oil contractor.
Among the seven charges in the indictment, prosecutors said that Stevens checked “no” on financial documents when asked whether he received any gifts in 2001. Actually, he checked “yes,” — and jurors asked the judge what they should do about that.
Prosecutors insisted it was merely a typographical error that didn’t affect the overall charge. Stevens did disclose one gift in 2001, but it was not related to the case. He didn’t disclose any gifts from oil contractor Bill Allen or his company, VECO Corp.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said he would instruct jurors to consider only the evidence, not the indictment, when deciding whether to convict Stevens. He rejected the Justice Department’s claim that it was merely a typo.
“Presumably somebody reads these indictments before they return them?” Sullivan said.
The 2001 allegation is at the heart of the government’s case. That year, VECO employees led a dramatic renovation to Stevens’ mountain cabin, building him a new first floor and installing a new electrical system. Allen filled the house with furniture, put a fully stocked tool box in his garage and installed a grill on the porch.
He also is accused of accepting an expensive massage chair and a custom work of stained glass from other friends. None of that was on his Senate financial forms.
Any uncertainty over the indictment is likely to benefit Stevens. Confusion in the jury room normally plays into a defendant’s hand, since it decreases the likelihood that jurors will reach the unanimous vote needed to hand up a verdict.