Washington Sen. Ted Stevens, the nation's longest-serving Republican senator and a major figure in Alaska politics since before statehood, was indicted Tuesday on seven felony counts of concealing more than a quarter of a million dollars in house renovations and gifts from a powerful oil contractor that lobbied him for government aid.
Stevens, 84, is the first sitting U.S. senator to face federal indictment since 1993. He declared, "I am innocent of these charges and intend to prove that."
He is accused of lying on his annual Senate financial disclosure reports between 1999 and 2006 - an indictment that caps a lengthy FBI investigation that has upended Alaska politics and brought unfavorable attention to both Stevens and his congressional colleague GOP Rep. Don Young. Both are running for re-election this year.
The Justice Department accused Stevens of accepting expensive work on his home in Girdwood, Alaska, a ski resort town outside Anchorage, from oil services contractor VECO Corp. and its executives. VECO normally builds oil processing equipment and pipelines, but its employees helped do the work on Stevens' home.
Prosecutors said that work included a new first floor, garage, wraparound deck, plumbing and electrical wiring. He also is accused of accepting from VECO a Viking gas grill, furniture and tools, and of failing to report swapping an old Ford for a new Land Rover to be driven by one of his children.
If convicted, Stevens could face up to five years in prison for each of the seven counts, although cases like this often result in lighter penalties.
Throughout the investigation, Stevens has remained an iconic figure in Alaska. A moderate Republican, he has served almost 40 years in the Senate, where he unabashedly steered money to his remote and sparsely populated home state. In recent years, Stevens was harshly criticized for securing $223 million in federal funding for a project known as the "bridge to nowhere," which became a national symbol of wasteful congressional spending.
The Justice Department has closely followed the money, looking for where it intersects with the senator's son, Ben, who also is under investigation concerning financial ties to a company that stood to make millions off a piece of federal legislation his father wrote.