Saturday, April 1, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Report Blasts Prosecutors for Ted Stevens Trial

(CN) - Investigators found that federal prosecutors engaged in "significant, widespread, and at times intentional misconduct" during the notoriously botched corruption trial of Alaska's late Sen. Ted Stevens, according to a sealed, 500-page report submitted this week to a federal judge.

Because government attorneys did not technically "disobey an order that [was] sufficiently 'clear and unequivocal at the time it [was] issued," however, the report does not recommend any prosecutions for criminal contempt related to the trial.

A federal jury found Stevens guilty of felony corruption in 2008 for lying about home renovations and other gifts he had received from executives with the VECO Corp., an oil field services company.

Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator in history, lost his 2009 re-election bid and died in a plane crash on Aug. 9, 2010.

Allegations of prosecutorial misconduct had dogged the proceedings from the start, and in 2009 the government admitted that it had held back exculpatory evidence about a key witness at least twice during the trial. A seemingly contrite Justice Department moved to set aside the verdict and dismiss the indictment a short time later.

The court appointed Washington, D.C., attorney Henry F. Schuelke III to investigate further misconduct allegedly committed by six federal prosecutors. Schuelke and fellow investigator William Shields recently submitted the fruits of their "exhaustive" labors to U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan.

"Based on their exhaustive investigation, Mr. Schuelke and Mr. Shields concluded that the investigation and prosecution of Senator Stevens were 'permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated his defense and his testimony, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government's key witness,'" Judge Sullivan wrote in an order signed Monday.

"Despite his findings of significant, widespread, and at times intentional misconduct, Mr. Schuelke is not recommending any prosecution for criminal contempt," Sullivan added. "Mr. Schuelke bases his conclusion not to recommend contempt proceedings on the requirement that, in order to prove criminal contempt beyond a reasonable doubt ... the contemnor must disobey an order that is sufficiently 'clear and unequivocal at the time it is issued.' Upon review of the docket and proceedings in the Stevens case, Mr. Schuelke concludes no such order existed in this case. Rather, the court accepted the repeated representations of the subject prosecutors that they were familiar with their discovery obligations, were complying with those obligations, and were proceeding in good faith."

Sullivan ordered the full report to remain sealed for the time being while the Department of Justice and Stevens' attorneys review it.

Related allegations of misconduct by federal prosecutors have also derailed the corruption trials of Alaska state Rep. Victor Kohring and Peter Kott, a former speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives.

Accused in 2007 of taking bribes from VECO, both men later had their convictions vacated by the 9th Circuit.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.