WASHINGTON — Bill J. Allen, the oil company executive at the core of the corruption case against Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, said Tuesday that he realized he was getting less than full value in a car deal with Stevens in 1999, but that he agreed to the transaction anyway -- "because I liked Ted."
Allen, the star government witness against Stevens, took the stand at the senator's corruption trial for the first of two days of testimony and recounted showering other gifts and perks on his longtime friend and fishing buddy.
Among the freebies: a $5,000 electric generator that Allen said he installed for Stevens gratis at his home in Alaska after Stevens expressed concerns about January 2000 power outages.
"Ted was worried . . . the computers might not work, so he needed a generator to make sure that he would have electricity," Allen said. "And so I went and got a generator and put it in."
"Did Sen. Stevens ever pay you back for this generator"? asked Justice Department attorney Joseph W. Bottini.
"No," Allen replied.
Stevens is charged with seven felony counts of filing false information with the Senate regarding more than $250,000 in gifts and home improvements he received from Allen and others.
The bulk of the largesse, the government alleges, was in the form of home improvements to a ski chalet that Stevens owns in Girdwood, Alaska, which were made through VECO Corp., Allen's now-defunct oil field services firm.
Allen is expected to detail those improvements today.
Allen pleaded guilty in May to federal bribery charges in connection with payments he made to a number of Alaskan lawmakers, including Stevens' son, Ben, former president of the Alaska state Senate.
Ted Stevens' lawyers are expected to challenge Allen's credibility and competence as a witness. They have obtained his medical records from a 2001 motorcycle accident in which he suffered head injuries. They are also expected to look into relationships he has had with young women.
The testimony from Allen buttressed the prosecution's view that the 1999 vehicle swap that Stevens proposed was a sweetheart deal for the senator.
Allen got Stevens' 1964 Mustang and $5,000; Stevens got a 1999 Land Rover that was still on the dealer lot in Anchorage.
Allen said he figured the Mustang was worth $15,000 to $20,000. He valued his "loaded" Land Rover at $44,000.
"Why did you enter into this agreement?" Bottini asked.
"Because I liked Ted," Allen said.
Allen said that Stevens later wanted to get the Mustang back, and offered up an armful of guns in exchange. Allen said he thought that would not be a good idea.
"I said, 'Ted, we shouldn't until you get out of the Senate,' " Allen testified, adding that he was concerned, "What would people think?"
Another government witness testified Tuesday how Stevens benefited from a nonprofit group called the Kenai River Sportfishing Assn.
The group sponsors a charity auction and annual fishing derby known as the Kenai River Classic to raise money to help sustain the famed fishing grounds and habitat. The event, which Stevens helped organize in the 1990s, attracts several hundred businessmen and lawmakers each year.
Jerie Best, a volunteer who has helped organize the auction on several occasions, recalled how she once arranged for an Iditarod sled dog puppy to be shipped to Stevens' home in Washington after a friend of the senator won it at one of the charity auctions.
Best also recounted how she was approached by a group of businessmen who purchased a $29,000 bronze statue of salmon for Stevens at another auction in 2002.
"A corporate lobbyist came up to me and said, 'We are putting together a consortium to purchase the statue for the senator's library,' " Best said. She also said Stevens was presented with a specially engraved rifle every year to commemorate his involvement.
Prosecutors contend that none of those gifts was properly accounted for, and that the artwork ended up on the porch of Stevens' home in Girdwood. Stevens' lawyers contend the bronze was intended for a charitable foundation and library being set up to mark his years in government service.
"Is Sen. Stevens a charity?" prosecutor Brenda Morris asked.
"Not that I know of," Best answered.