WASHINGTON Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges he lied about accepting more than a quarter of a million dollars worth of gifts. He asked for a trial before he stands for re-election in November.
In the midst of his re-election bid, lawyers for the Senate's longest-serving Republican maintained Stevens' innocence at his afternoon arraignment in federal court in Washington.
Stevens, wearing a cream colored suit, did not speak when U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan asked for his plea. Stevens' attorney, Brendan Sullivan, answered for him.
Prosecutors say the Alaska Republican accepted more than $250,000 in house renovations and gifts from contractors but didn't disclose them on Senate financial records.
Stevens' legal team asked the judge to move the trial to Alaska, where the senator has been a political patron since before statehood. Attorney Sullivan also asked that the trial date be speeded up to give Stevens his day in court before the Nov. 4 election.
"He'd like to clear his name before the election," Sullivan told the judge. He added: "This is not a complex case. It should be one that moves quickly."
Stevens sat impassively at a witness table in the courtroom and whispered with his attorneys.
Prosecutors said they did not object to a trial date in late September.
"That is absolutely fine," said prosecutor Brenda K. Morris.
Judge Sullivan said he would consider the unusually fast trial schedule. He was meeting with his law clerks Thursday afternoon and was scheduled to reconvene court later.
Stevens will be released on bail. He'll be free to travel inside the country but will have to surrender his passport.
Stevens, 84, is accused of concealing more than $250,000 in gifts and home remodeling services he received from VECO Corp., a once powerful contracting firm. Two top VECO executives have pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers. The executives cooperated with the FBI and provided information about Stevens.
If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison on each of seven counts of lying on financial disclosure forms he filed with the Senate from 1999 to 2006.
The Justice Department stopped short, however, of charging Stevens with bribery or other traditional corruption charges. Despite winning cooperation from the VECO executives and searching the senator's home, prosecutors said they could not prove a this-for-that corruption case.
His indictment is the culmination of an FBI investigation that for years has sent tremors through Alaska's political system. Several state lawmakers have been charged and others, including Stevens' son, Ben, remain under scrutiny.
Prosecutors said they had nearly 500 gigabytes of evidence, including taped conversations and video. Former VECO president Bill Allen cooperated with the FBI and allowed agents to tape his conversations with Stevens.