Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), a powerful force in the telecommunications policy arena, was indicted last Tuesday on seven felony counts for failing to disclose more than $250,000 in free home renovations since 2001, the Justice Department announced.
Stevens, 84, was accused of omitting from his Senate financial disclosures that an Alaska oil services company and its top executive paid to overhaul a Girdwood, Alaska, home that Stevens owns with his wife, acting Assistant Attorney General Matthew Friedrich said at a press conference here.
“A primary purpose of such forms is to disclose, monitor and deter conflict of interest and maintain public confidence in the United States Senate and its membership,” Friedrich said.
Facing a maximum of five years in prison on each count, if tried and convicted, Stevens announced he would fight the charges.
“I have never knowingly submitted a false disclosure form required by law as a U.S. senator,” he said in a statement. “I am innocent of these charges and intend to prove that.”
Under Senate Republican rules, Stevens had to give up his party leadership post on the Senate Commerce Committee, which approves nominees to the Federal Communications Commission.
Senate Republicans replaced Stevens with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), who said, “I am honored to temporarily step in for Sen. Stevens … while the legal process works itself out.”
Stevens, the most senior Republican in the Senate, was appointed to his seat in 1968. He gradually became a powerful figure in allocating billions in federal funding and overseeing the actions of the FCC.
In 2006, he failed to pass a sweeping telecommunications bill that would have expedited the entry of AT&T and Verizon Communications into local cable TV markets. Google, Yahoo and eBay helped defeat it by complaining that it lacked sufficient network neutrality safeguards on the Internet.
At times, Stevens has been helpful to the cable industry. He pressured FCC chairman Kevin Martin to refrain from imposing a la carte mandates on cable. And Stevens himself backed away from a March 2005 plan to impose broadcast indecency regulations on cable operators and programmers.
Hutchison has shown some interest in cable regulation. Two years ago, she introduced a bill that required states to take control the cable franchising process, supplanting thousands of local governments around the country.
She co-sponsored legislation in 2006 with Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) that called for giving the FCC conditional authority to regulate violent and indecent cable programming for the first time in the industry’s history.
Stevens, who was not arrested, was accused of having accepted home improvements that included a new first floor and a finished basement from VECO Corp., a private oil company and one of Alaska’s largest employers, and from the company’s CEO, Bill J. Allen.
“VECO contractors and employees performed a significant portion of these renovations,” Friedrich said
Stevens, under penalty of perjury, Stevens was required to report any gift that exceeded $305 from 2003 to 2006. By failing to do so, Stevens made “false statements,” Friedrich said.
“Sen. Stevens did not reimburse or repay VECO or its chief executive officer for these items,” Friedrich said.
Stevens was indicted by a federal grand jury in D.C. as part of Justice’s four-year-old probe into political corruption in Alaska. The investigation has led to the conviction of seven individuals, Friedrich said.
Former VECO CEO Allen pleaded guilty in May 2007 of making “more than $400,000 in corrupt payments to public officials” in Alaska, according to the Justice Department.