Foreman: Stevens remodel figure is way off
An oilfield-services company provided more than $150,000 worth of labor renovating the home of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, according to a project...
Special to The Seattle Times
An oilfield-services company provided more than $150,000 worth of labor renovating the home of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, according to a project foreman who is cooperating in a federal investigation of Alaska's senior member of Congress.
Employees of VECO Corp., the oil contractor, provided months of work during the 2000 remodeling, which roughly doubled the size of the senator's home in Girdwood, Alaska, said David Anderson, who supervised the job.
Anderson, who said he testified before a federal grand jury about the remodeling, is a former employee and nephew of VECO founder Bill Allen.
Anderson's labor estimate is of interest to federal investigators as they examine the relationship between Allen and Stevens, who for years has ranked as one of the most powerful members of the U.S. Senate.
The remodeling involved VECO labor, materials, subcontractors and other expenses. For federal investigators, key questions are the total cost of the project, and whether VECO picked up part of the tab as Allen sought to gain favor with Stevens.
At the time of the work, Stevens was at the peak of his political power, chairing the Senate Appropriations Committee in a Republican-controlled Senate and directing billions of dollars of federal spending. He also has helped shape energy, fisheries, telecommunications and other federal policies of major importance to the Pacific Northwest.
In late July, FBI agents took the extraordinary action of removing the lock to search Stevens' Alaska home, and spent much of the day taking measurements and gathering other evidence. The raid thrust the Justice Department investigation into the public spotlight and has ramped up pressure on Stevens.
Stevens, 84, told reporters last summer that he and his wife paid all the remodeling bills that were passed onto them. In a letter to a supporter, he put that amount at "more than $130,000."
"While I ... would like to discuss these issues in great detail, the interests of justice and our state are best served if I make my comments after federal officials complete their work," Stevens said in a statement released to The Seattle Times.
Anderson, 48, said the total remodeling cost, including materials and subcontractors, was way above $130,000.
"We did all kinds of stuff, so it's ludicrous to think that it's only $130,000," Anderson said in a November interview. "Labor alone was more than that."
Anderson said he cannot provide a full account of all the costs because he never received a project budget from Allen and did not review all the expenses. Also, he said Stevens never asked for an estimate.
Stevens and his wife, Cathy, were in Washington, D.C., during much of the renovation, but they did visit the home several times during the work, with Cathy taking an interest in choosing the final interior touches, Anderson said. Otherwise, he said, the couple seemed "nonchalant" about the remodeling.
A bitter feud
Anderson said he has been told by FBI agents that he could be called to testify should Stevens be indicted and charged with a crime. Anderson said he worked for VECO for 25 years and helped in other political tasks, including the welding of a pork rotisserie used at annual campaign fundraisers hosted by Allen for U.S. Rep. Don Young, Alaska's lone House member.
Anderson does have detractors.
They include his uncle, Allen, the VECO founder who in May pleaded guilty to bribing state legislators and is cooperating with federal investigators. In 2004, Allen fired Anderson, and the men have since been locked in a bitter feud, according to Anderson. Anderson agreed to his first interview with a reporter because he is upset with Allen's public statements, which include allegations of blackmailing against Anderson.
A VECO subcontractor on the Stevens remodeling, who has testified before the federal grand jury, also takes issue with Anderson. That subcontractor, Augie Paone, was an important part of the renovation as he framed the first-floor addition and finished the interior.
In a November interview, Paone said Stevens wrote him checks totaling about $100,000 for the work. Paone believes the remodeling could have cost — if all the work was done more efficiently — around $130,000 to $150,000. That is close to the figure Stevens cited earlier this year.
Paone contends that, while he was working in Girdwood, VECO did not contribute much to the job, and Anderson's presence was mostly to keep Allen informed of progress.
"His impact was minimal because no matter what, he had to go through Bill [Allen] for everything, and if he wasn't there, I would have gone through Bill to get things done," Paone said. "He didn't really speed up the job."
Anderson said Paone is wrong: "I busted my ass on Ted's house." He said VECO's labor costs were high because its workers were paid by the biggest oil contractor in the state.
Paone was hired halfway into the project, Anderson said, because VECO's expertise was mainly in the oil industry and commercial projects — not residential construction.
During the renovation, Anderson said, he helped move a water line, build two decks and custom-weld a metal staircase, as well as carry out other tasks ranging from stringing Christmas lights to delivering a new queen-size bed to the senator's house.
Allen, 70, founded Anchorage-based VECO in 1968 and built it into a worldwide oil contractor with nearly $1 billion in annual revenue. He became a campaign contributor and friend of Stevens'. The two men even shared ownership in a racehorse.
In spring 2000, Anderson said he was sent to clear brush at the small house in Girdwood. Shortly thereafter, Allen summoned Anderson to a penthouse suite at Alyeska Resort to brainstorm how to expand the house.
"Once Bill had his mind set on the job, it was almost as though you couldn't stop him," Anderson said.
For Allen, this past year has been an abrupt descent. He resigned from VECO, which was then sold to a Colorado company. He faces prison time as a result of his May plea agreement and he has served as a government witness in federal bribery trials of two former state legislators.
This fall, during cross-examination in one of those trials, Allen testified that VECO provided materials and several employees to work on Stevens' house. When asked in another trial a few weeks later by a defense attorney if the remodeling was a "gift" to the senator, Allen answered, "No."
Others who knew Allen personally said it is possible Allen failed to forward Stevens every bill. Former state Sen. Rick Halford said that when he was serving in the Alaska Legislature in the late 1990s, Allen had Anderson work on his floatplane dock and other VECO workers spray-insulate his airplane hangar.
Halford said Allen, his friend at the time, never sent him a bill, so he wrote VECO a check for what he believed was a full reimbursement.
"I was making sure I covered myself because when Bill helped you out, you sometimes had a hard time trying to find out what to pay for," said Halford, who has not been contacted by the FBI.
Allen's attorney did not return calls seeking comment for this story.
Anderson, who now lives in a cabin by a remote Alaska lake, said he has not been charged with any crime. He said his career with VECO abruptly ended when he began dating his uncle's former girlfriend.
Anderson said Allen was furious and threatened to harm him.
While testifying in the bribery trial of a former Alaska legislator, Allen accused Anderson of blackmailing him over the Stevens remodeling. Anderson denies the blackmail allegation and said the dispute was over the girlfriend.
Relations were so bad between the two that Allen's lawyer at the time drafted a 10-page settlement in which Anderson and Allen agreed to never contact each other again. In return for signing the contract, Anderson said, he received $30,000 from the firm of Allen's lawyer.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 09:46 AM
Exxon Mobil wins ruling in Alaska oil spill case
NEW - 7:51 AM
Longview man says he was tortured with hot knife
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.