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Tapes catch Stevens with his guard down

The Alaska senator acknowledged he could face fines or jail.

October 07, 2008|Richard B. Schmitt | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Caught on tape discussing the burgeoning corruption probe against him two years ago, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens was both combative and pragmatic, denying in sometimes coarse language that he and a friend had done anything wrong but also acknowledging that they might face fines or even prison.

"You got to get a mental attitude that these guys can't really hurt us. They're not going to shoot us. It's not Iraq," the six-term Republican lawmaker said in a telephone conversation with oilman Bill J. Allen recorded by the FBI.

"Worst thing can happen to us is we run up a bunch of legal fees . . . and might have to pay a fine . . . might have to serve a little time in jail," Stevens continued. "I hope . . . it never comes to that . . . and I don't think it will. But I am developing the attitude that I don't think I did anything wrong, so I am going to go right through my life and keep doing what I think is right."

The recordings were made in August, September and October of 2006, with the permission of Allen, a longtime friend of Stevens who had just been confronted by federal agents about his role in an influence-peddling scheme involving state lawmakers in Alaska, including Stevens' son.

The tapes were played Monday for jurors as part of the government's case against Stevens, who is on trial for failing to report more than $250,000 in gifts and home improvements from Allen to a cabin he owns southeast of Anchorage.

Allen is the principal government witness against Stevens, but the tapes evoke a time when the men had a deep friendship, co-owning a thoroughbred racehorse and fishing for king salmon in the famed Kenai River in Alaska, among other bonding activities.

Stevens expresses concern on one of the recordings about a problem Allen had been having with low blood pressure, and rhapsodizes about the times the men attended high-end "boot camps" together to lose weight.

When the subject turns to the federal corruption investigation, he tells Allen the men ought to be careful about what they say to one another and avoid even the appearance of being uncooperative with investigators.

"They're probably listening to this conversation right now," Stevens said of federal agents.

"Well, they're not supposed to be," Allen said.

Stevens also noted that many people who come under scrutiny are never charged with crimes for which they are investigated but rather with failing to tell the truth and obstructing justice. At one point, he raised the example of lifestyle maven Martha Stewart, who was convicted of lying to investigators, rather than securities fraud, in a case about a well-timed stock sale.

"Let's not hasten this thing along and make it look like we are trying to stop them at the pass," the lawmaker said. "I am not afraid of them at all."

Later, the men commiserate about the entanglement.

"Hey, Ted, I am sorry this whole thing has happened," Allen said.

"Life is life. These things happen," Stevens replied, recounting a story about his uncle Walter, an inventor, getting in trouble with authorities.

"Attitude is what makes a difference," he said. "We are both going to live a long time if we do this right."

Stevens' lawyer Brendan V. Sullivan Jr. began his cross-examination of Allen after the tapes were played Monday. The government is expected to finish presenting its case against the senator by midweek.

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rick.schmitt@latimes.com

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