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September 22, 2008

Stevens Heads To Trial

Federal prosecutors will begin to make the case today that Senator Ted Stevens is guilty on charges that he did not disclose gifts from an oil services company in a public corruption case that has rocked the state of Alaska.

Despite an effort by the defense to move the trial to Stevens' home state, court will be in session in Washington today as Stevens faces seven felony counts that could send him to jail for years. The counts stem from work VECO Corp. performed on Stevens' home near Anchorage, worth some $250,000 according to prosecutors, that Stevens failed to list on his Senate disclosure forms.

The former head of VECO Corp., Bill Allen, will serve as the prosecution's chief witness. Allen has already pleaded guilty on charges that he bribed a number of lawmakers in the Alaska House and Senate, and five state legislators have already gone to prison in connection with the scandal.

The trial, starting almost eight weeks after Stevens was indicted, comes just six weeks before Stevens faces voters against a difficult Democratic challenger. But after serving six full terms, Stevens' popularity has plummeted, and most polls show him trailing Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.

Prosecutors have said they will take three weeks to lay out their case against Stevens. Stevens' attorneys, led by high-powered Washington lawyer Brendan Sullivan, have said they will need a week to mount their defense. That would leave approximately two weeks to go between the verdict and Election Day.

Stevens isn't the only member of Congress involved in the VECO Corp. scandal. Rep. Don Young, who has served with Stevens since the early 1970s, is also reportedly under investigation for his dealings with the oil services giant. Young, who has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars from his campaign account on legal fees, hasn't been indicted, but most polls show him trailing Democrat Ethan Berkowitz by an almost insurmountable margin.