A federal jury found Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, guilty today on all seven counts of hiding more than $250,000 in gifts, including about $200,000 in renovations at his Girdwood, Alaska, home.
Stevens, 84, looked ashen-faced as the foreman, a drug counselor, announced the verdict before a hushed audience in U.S. District Court, just a few blocks from where Stevens built a career as the longest-serving Republican senator in history at 40 years.
Each juror was polled on each count, and then dismissed, ending a trial that started its sixth week today. The jury deliberated for three days before deciding a verdict.
In a statement this evening, Stevens said he was "obviously disappointed in the verdict but not surprised given the repeated instances of prosecutorial misconduct in this case," citing exculpatory evidence withheld from his lawyers and a witness who was kept from the defense and sent back to Alaska before testifying. "I will fight this unjust verdict with every ounce of energy I have," he added.
"I am innocent. This verdict is the result of the unconscionable manner in which the Justice Department lawyers conducted this trial. I ask that Alaskans and my Senate colleagues stand with me as I pursue my rights," Stevens said, adding that he remains a candidate for re-election next week. [Stevens' statement is available here.]
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan announced Stevens will be sentenced sometime after a Feb. 25 hearing. He faces a maximum of 35 years in prison, but under federal sentencing guidelines the typical sentence in these kinds of cases is about 18 months.
Stevens and his entourage of high-profile white collar criminal lawyers left the courtroom and boarded their van without commenting. A somber Catherine Stevens left separately, holding back tears, and the lawmaker was overheard telling his wife, "It's not over."
Lead prosecutor Brenda Morris said on the way out of court that, "It's a good day for the government."
Matthew Friedrich, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's criminal division, told reporters that "this investigation continues, as does our commitment to hold elected officials accountable when they violate our laws." The Justice Department has an ongoing investigation into corruption in Alaska politics.
The verdict was not only a severe personal blow for the man Alaskans called "Uncle Ted," it was a devastating political blow for the veteran lawmaker who is attempting to win an eighth term against stiff competition from Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.
Despite being a convicted felon, Stevens is not required to drop out of his re-election race or resign from the Senate. If he wins re-election, he can continue to hold his seat because there is no rule barring felons from serving in Congress.
The Senate could vote to expel him on a two-thirds vote, but in the weeks leading up to his trial, Stevens said: "Put this down: That will never happen -- ever, OK? I am not stepping down. I'm going to run through, and I'm going to win this election."
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign of Nevada made news a week ago when he suggested that a conviction would likely result in Stevens' loss of his seat.
For most of the cycle, Ensign said the NRSC's spending in the Last Frontier would be contingent on the outcome of the trial, and that if Stevens was found innocent, it would be a competitive race.
Senate leadership aides from both parties said the verdict would likely bring an end to Stevens' political career. "After Gov. [Sarah] Palin has made fighting the corruption and good old boy network in Alaska a centerpiece of her campaign, it's going to be near impossible for Stevens to shake this," a GOP aide said.
The afternoon verdict came as a stunning surprise since a new juror was just seated this morning to replace a woman who had traveled to California to attend the memorial service for her father. The judge had told the jury after the woman was seated to "start deliberations anew."
His case marked the first time a sitting senator had been indicted since Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas., was indicted in 1993 on misuse of state funds and employees in her election campaign. She was acquitted after her trial began.
Also indicted in 1993 was Sen. David Durenberger, R-Minn., on charges he conspired to make fraudulent claims for Senate reimbursement of $3,825 in lodging expenses. He later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and was sentenced to one year of probation and a $1,000 fine.
Stevens was indicted July 29 by a federal grand jury in Washington on the seven felony counts. The government charged that Stevens failed to reveal home renovation financed by employees of VECO, a since-sold oil services firm headed by one-time Stevens' buddy Bill Allen.
Allen was charged last year with conspiracy and bribing Alaska state legislators and in return for a lesser prison sentence agreed to help the government in its ongoing investigation.
As part of his plea agreement, Allen was wired to tape record conversations with Stevens.
Throughout the case, Stevens has denied any wrongdoing and insisted he paid all bills sent to him. He took the stand in his own behalf as the closing defense witness.
He said his wife, Catherine, was in charge of overseeing the renovation and that she paid $160,000 in construction costs for raising the one-story A-frame, putting it on stilts, and installing a new first floor and garage.
Prosecutors said he never paid a dime to VECO or Allen for the work.
As for a litany of gifts bestowed on him by Allen or another close friend, restaurateur Bob Persons, Stevens said he never asked for them or they were loans, not gifts.
These included a rollaway tool box, a $3,200 stained glass window, furniture, kitchen appliances, a $29,000 statue of spawning salmon, a nearly $2,700 Brookstone massage chair and a $6,000 Viking barbecue gas grille.
Follow CongressDaily's coverage of the Stevens trial here.