Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens has been convicted of felony corruption charges days before Election Day 2008. (Photo: Al Grillo / AP)
Washington - Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens was convicted of seven corruption charges Monday in a trial that tainted the 40-year Senate career of Alaska's political patriarch.
The verdict, coming just days before Election Day, adds further uncertainty to a closely watched Senate race. Democrats hope to seize the once reliably Republican seat as part of their bid for a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
Stevens, 84, was convicted of all seven charges he faced of lying about free home renovations and other gifts he received from a wealthy oil contractor. Jurors began deliberating Wednesday at noon.
Stevens faces up to five years in prison on each count when he is sentenced Jan. 26, but under federal sentencing guidelines, he is likely to receive much less prison time, if any.
The monthlong trial revealed that employees for oil services company VECO Corp. transformed the senator's modest mountain cabin into a modern, two-story home with wraparound porches, a sauna and a wine cellar. Stevens never paid for VECO's work.
The Senate's longest-serving Republican, Stevens said he had no idea he was getting freebies. He said he paid $160,000 for the project and said he believed that covered everything.
Stevens asked for an unusually speedy trial, hoping he'd be exonerated in time to return to Alaska and win re-election. He kept his campaign going and gave no indication that he had a contingency plan in case of conviction.
Despite being a convicted felon, he is not required to drop out of the race or resign from the Senate. If he wins re-election, he can continue to hold his seat because there is no rule barring felons from serving in Congress. The Senate could vote to expel Stevens on a two-thirds vote.
"Put this down: That will never happen - ever, OK?" Stevens said in the weeks leading up to his trial. "I am not stepping down. I'm going to run through and I'm going to win this election.
Democrats, who are hoping to capture a filibuster-proof Senate majority, have jumped at the chance to seize the once reliably Republican seat. They have invested heavily in the race, running television advertisements starring fictional FBI agents and featuring excerpts from wiretaps.
Stevens' conviction hinged on the testimony of Bill Allen, the senator's longtime drinking and fishing buddy. Allen, the founder of VECO, testified that he never billed his friend for the work on the house and that Stevens knew he was getting a deal.
Stevens spent three days on the witness stand, vehemently denying that allegation. He said his wife, Catherine, paid every bill they received.
Living in Washington, thousands of miles away, made it impossible to monitor the project every day. Stevens relied on Allen to oversee the renovations, he said, and his friend deceived him by not forwarding all the bills.
Stevens is a legendary figure in Alaska, where he has wielded political influence since before statehood. His knack for steering billions of dollars in federal money to his home state has drawn praise from his constituents and consternation from budget hawks.