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Items in homes were loans, Stevens says

Prosecutors call them gifts. Final arguments will be heard today.

October 21, 2008|Richard B. Schmitt | Schmitt is a Times staff writer.

WASHINGTON — Testimony in the corruption trial of Sen. Ted Stevens concluded Monday, with a Justice Department attorney trying to undermine the credibility of the Alaska Republican by questioning why he didn't return items of value that friends had left at his homes in Washington and Alaska.

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said closing arguments by the government and Stevens' lawyers would be heard today; Sullivan indicated that the federal jury would begin deliberations Wednesday. Stevens is charged with failing to disclose to the Senate more than $250,000 in home improvements and gifts, including a gas grill, bronze artwork and a reclining massage chair.

Public integrity attorney Brenda Morris repeatedly challenged Stevens on the witness stand Monday, saying his explanation that the items in question were not gifts, even though they remained at his homes, was not plausible.

Morris asked Stevens about a $2,700 Brookstone massage chair delivered to his home in Washington in 2001. Stevens has taken the position that the chair was a loan from a friend. But he acknowledged on cross-examination that it remains in his home to this day.

"How is that not a gift?" Morris asked.

"We have lots of things in our house that don't belong to us, ma'am," Stevens replied. Asked later what these things included, Stevens said there were items owned by his daughter and friends of his wife, Catherine.

Stevens said the status of the massage chair was like that of a Viking gas grill that Alaskan oilman Bill J. Allen had delivered to the Stevens home in Girdwood, Alaska. The government alleges that the grill was a gift to Stevens. The lawmaker says the grill is still owned by Allen, even though it remains at the home; he has also said he and his wife never use it.

Allen and Stevens were longtime social companions, although Allen, who is alleged to have made the free renovations and given other gifts that Stevens failed to report, was the prosecution's star witness.

Morris also asked Stevens on Monday about other furniture that Allen delivered to the Alaska home. Stevens has said that he was unaware that he was getting the furniture, and that in any event, he did not like it. He has testified that Allen also removed the existing furniture in the home.

"Why did you not call the police when Bill Allen stole your furniture?" Morris asked.

"It never crossed my mind to call the police at that time," Stevens replied. "It might now."

Catherine Stevens previously testified that she wrote $160,000 in checks for the home makeover, but the government contends that tens of thousands of dollars in labor done by employees of VECO Corp., Allen's now-defunct oil services company, were never paid for.

The Stevens have testified that they believed those labor costs were included in the bills they received and paid to their contractor. Both have conceded that Allen may have withheld bills without their knowledge. The government contends that they turned a blind eye to the fact that Allen was doing them a favor.

"If Bill Allen gives you something," Morris said, "you don't have to report that on your financial disclosure forms?"

"No, that is not my testimony," Stevens responded.

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rick.schmitt@latimes.com

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