Friends of Stevens group seeks Justice Dept. accountability

An advocacy group started by friends of the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens is on a rampage, calling for accountability in the U.S. Department of Justice and specifically for the firing of two prosecutors and an FBI agent who pursued the flawed and failed corruption case against him.

The group, called Alaskans for Justice, is holding a public rally starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the PenAir hangar, on Boeing Avenue at Stevens International Airport. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan will be master of ceremonies. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is scheduled to speak, as is U.S. Rep. Don Young. U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, the Democrat who ousted Stevens from office, is sending a letter to be read, as is Gov. Sean Parnell.

The effort to rehabilitate Stevens' name came together around the time a 500-plus-page investigative report into the troubled Stevens' prosecution was released, said Mary Ann Pease, a business consultant and one of the organizers of the rally.

"To this day there's really been no kind of follow-up on how poorly this has been handled," Pease said.

While a federal jury found Stevens guilty of lying on his financial disclosure forms to conceal expensive gifts, a judge threw out the verdicts after prosecutors admitted they had failed to turn over some critical evidence to the defense.

The federal government has spent nearly $1 million for the report by special prosecutor Henry Schuelke into the failures in the Stevens prosecution, and another $1.8 million for the lawyers being investigated to defend themselves.

Alaskans for Justice wants more. The group, with dozens of supporters including oil industry executives, Native corporation leaders, and business owners, backs legislation sponsored by Murkowski to require prosecutors to turn over evidence that could help the defense. Begich has signed on as a co-sponsor, and the American Civil Liberties Union supports the bill.

The group also wants prosecutors Joe Bottini and James Goeke fired, as well as FBI agent Mary Beth Kepner, Pease said. Murkowski has called for the two prosecutors, who were singled out in the Schuelke report, to be ousted.

That's misguided anger, said Bottini's lawyer, Ken Wainstein of Washington, D.C.

While the prosecution team made mistakes, Schuelke's conclusion that the prosecutors intentionally withheld information is not based in fact, Wainstein said.

Just as the supporters of Stevens say he didn't get fair treatment, the process used by Schuelke is patently unfair to the prosecutors, who are being roundly criticized without getting a chance to push back on the accusations, Wainstein said.

Bottini has a 27-year career as a federal prosecutor and a good reputation among defense lawyers as fair, a straight shooter, Wainstein said.

"He's like the last guy to get close to the line and push the rules," his lawyer said.

Patti Higgins, chairwoman of the Alaska Democratic Party, said the Stevens' supporters should let the matter rest. While the case was thrown out, he wasn't proven innocent, she said. If they keep pushing, the Stevens case will be essentially reopened.

"Ted Stevens is dead. He can't defend himself. I would rather leave the past the past and not retry Ted Stevens all over again," she said.

Stevens was killed in a plane crash in 2010.

His friends aren't going to let up, Pease said. They don't want anyone else to go through what he did.

"If it could happen to someone as statesman-like as Sen. Ted Stevens, it could happen to anyone," she said.

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