FBI agents spent years investigating Sen. Ted Stevens. They read his e-mails, searched his home and taped his phone conversations with his friends.
This week, the Justice Department offered its first public glimpse at what it says it uncovered: A direct line of communication from a corrupt Alaska oil contractor to one of the nation's most powerful senators. When VECO Corp. executives needed help securing business, winning grants or navigating the bureaucracy, they called Stevens.
And when Stevens needed a new generator for his house, a car for his daughter or a job for his son, prosecutors say he called VECO, the same company that oversaw an extensive renovation project on his home.
The Justice Department didn't bring charges against Stevens for any of that, but they want jurors to see the evidence. Stevens goes on trial next month, not for bribery but for concealing the renovation project and other gifts on Senate financial disclosure forms.
Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator, is in the midst of an unusually contentious re-election campaign. He says the Justice Department is using innuendo to accuse him of bribery without having to charge it.
Prosecutors argue that, with each transaction and conversation, they add to a mosaic revealing a senator working behind the scenes with friends and favored contractors and hiding his deals from Congress.
In court documents filed Thursday night, prosecutors laid out a series of things they want to discuss at trial, including the senator's help pushing oil-friendly legislation in Alaska and a 2001 condo deal in which Stevens allegedly parlayed a $5,000 investment into a $103,000 profit in a matter of months.
The oil legislation has become the cornerstone of the government's investigation. Two VECO executives, founder Bill Allen and vice president Rick Smith, have pleaded guilty to bribing legislators with cash, jobs and gifts to push for a state oil tax deal and construction of a natural gas pipeline. Working with the FBI, the corrupt businessmen helped send several lawmakers and political figures to prison.
When the gas pipeline project stalled in the state legislature in 2006, Stevens allegedly offered to use his Washington connections to push it forward.
“I'm gonna try to see if I can get some bigwigs from back here to go up there and say, ‘Look, uh, you just gotta make up your mind, you gotta get this done,' ” Stevens told Allen in a phone call, according to court documents.
Days later, federal energy regulators issued a report saying that delays could cripple the project's future. Stevens has denied any wrongdoing and hopes an unusually speedy trial will clear his name before Election Day.