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Closing arguments draw sharp contrast at Stevens trial

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From Paul Courson
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Ted Stevens repeatedly asked for invoices to cover home renovations and otherwise complied with Senate rules on accepting and reporting gifts of value, his defense attorney said in closing arguments Tuesday.

Sen. Ted Stevens leaves the federal courthouse Tuesday evening with his daughter Beth Stevens.

Sen. Ted Stevens leaves the federal courthouse Tuesday evening with his daughter Beth Stevens.

Stevens, 84, has been fighting a seven-count indictment accusing him of filing false statements on mandatory financial disclosure forms. The jury is scheduled to begin deliberating Wednesday.

In closing arguments, prosecutors said Stevens engaged in an elaborate scheme to accept thousands of dollars in gifts from Alaskan oil industry executive Bill Allen, who has admitted he tried to bribe state legislators, including the senator's son.

Stevens is not accused of bribery, but one prosecutor suggested he accepted gifts, concealed them from the public, and "took care of Bill" -- referring to Allen, the founder of oil services contractor Veco Corp.

The trial has revolved around a construction project at the Stevens family chalet in Girdwood, Alaska, about 40 miles from Anchorage at the foot of a ski resort. Allen, starting in 2000, helped organize labor, materials and subcontractors that doubled the size of the home.

In his closing arguments, defense attorney Brendan Sullivan said the government failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and that the jury should acquit Stevens on all counts.

He noted Allen had testified that Stevens would have paid whatever bills were sent, but that he decided not to tell Stevens the full cost "because I like Ted."

Allen also testified an Alaskan neighbor overseeing the home renovation said Stevens was "just trying to cover his ass" in requesting invoices for the project. Prosecutors have said none of the evidence shows Stevens ever paid Allen or Veco, and that neither is named on the disclosure forms.

The neighbor, Bob Persons, testified during the trial that he never made that remark.

On Tuesday, the defense highlighted the contradiction against the testimony of the prosecution's star witness, making it a theme throughout a series of correspondence in which Stevens continued to ask for a full accounting.

"If you're covering your ass," Sullivan told the jury, "why, a month later, are you asking for the bill again?"

Prosecutors played a recorded phone call between Persons and Allen.

"Ted gets hysterical when he has to spend his own money," Bob Persons told a mutual friend in the recording, which was played for jurors by Joe Bottini, the assistant U.S. attorney for Alaska.

Stevens, who spends most of his time in Washington, gave Persons power of attorney so he could get the required building permit to work on the chalet Stevens has owned since 1983.

Persons also confided to Allen that he didn't believe Stevens had enough money to do the remodeling.

Later Tuesday, the government made its final case.

"Wow!" shouted prosecutor Brenda Morris as she stood to address the jury, "Were we at the same trial? Because the evidence I saw was totally different."

She urged the jury to find the senator guilty on all counts, saying the evidence shows "Ted Stevens knowingly and repeatedly violated the law because he thought he was above the law."

The judge will remind the jury that Allen's testimony against Stevens is part of a deal with prosecutors that could reduce his jail time when sentenced for attempted bribery. Morris, the lead prosecutor in the Stevens case, tried to bolster Allen's standing as the jury prepared to deliberate.

"The only thing he's guilty of with regard to this defendant is standing up and telling the truth" about materials and labor he arranged on the home improvement project, Morris said of Allen. "It was the defendant who is responsible for reporting it."

If convicted on all counts, Stevens would face a maximum sentence of 35 years. Legal experts note the judge has the discretion to give Stevens as little as no jail time and probation.

Former federal prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers have told CNN that if convicted on some or all of the counts, the senator probably would face between a year to more than two years in jail.

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