Susan Walsh/AP
Former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens

Ted Stevens Case Reveals More and More Corruption Allegations

April 08, 2009 03:00 PM
by Cara McDonough
A federal judge has ordered a criminal investigation of the prosecutors who handled the case, a move that could end their careers.

“Seething” Judge Says He’s Never Seen Anything Like It

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan dismissed the corruption conviction of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens on Tuesday; Stevens, 85, had been convicted in October of lying about home renovations and gifts he had received from wealthy friends on Senate financial disclosure forms. He lost his Senate seat to Democrat Mark Begich shortly after the verdict.

After Sullivan dismissed the conviction, he took the “rare and serious step” of announcing the criminal investigation of the prosecution, The Associated Press reports. “In nearly 25 years on the bench, I've never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I've seen in this case,” he said.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had asked Sullivan to dismiss the case last week on reports that the prosecution had withheld crucial evidence in the case.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, prosecutors “failed to share with Stevens' attorneys notes from an interview with the prosecution's key witness that contradicted the witness's trial testimony.”

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating the allegations. The story lists the names of the six prosecutors, who could be charged with criminal contempt and obstruction of justice.

Stevens, meanwhile, celebrated the news. According to AP, he held his fist up in victory after the judge dismissed the case, and his wife and daughters began crying.

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Background: The Stevens case

The Stevens case began when the senator from Alaska was accused of failing to report more than $250,000 of gifts from various friends and “favor-seekers.” One of those accused of providing services was Bill Allen, the former chairman of the oil-field services company Veco Corp. He pleaded guilty to bribing Alaska legislators and was a witness against Stevens.

A jury found Stevens guilty of corruption in October and the senator faced up to five years in prison. At the time, Stevens was concentrating on the political race against Begich.

The case was plagued with difficulties from the start. Attorneys tried more than once to have a mistrial declared, accusing prosecutors of manipulating Allen, a key witness in the trial, to weaken the defense's case. Reports also surfaced that Allen’s attorney may have been coaching him on the witness stand by using hand signals.

In December, a whistleblower complaint accused prosecutors of hiding witnesses and other misconduct while prosecuting Stevens. The complaint accused prosecutors of trying to “relocate a witness,” which “echo long-running complaints raised by Stevens’s defense team,” The Washington Post reported at the time.

Related Topic: Prosecutorial misconduct and Mike Nifong

In June 2007, Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong was disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar for breaking the rules of professional conduct while handling rape allegations against three Duke University lacrosse players.

Nifong had been carried on a wave of public support, raising charges of kidnapping and first-degree sexual offense against the three students. However, as The Christian Science Monitor reported at the time, he fell hard when reports surfaced that the alleged victim—an exotic dancer—may have lied about the incident. Furthermore, it was discovered that  Nifong had asked a DNA lab director to withhold important evidence from defense attorneys.

Due to cases like the Duke lacrosse case, and now Stevens’ case, those who work to criminalize prosecutorial misconduct may find the subject gets more attention.

One such person is Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, whose office leads the nation in wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing. Watkins has been pushing his state for years to ensure that prosecutors who intentionally withhold evidence and put the innocent in jail pay for their actions.

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