WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday said it will ask a judge to dismiss the conviction of former Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens amid allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in the high-profile corruption case.
Attorney General Eric Holder said he decided to abandon the case against Stevens, a Republican who had been the longest serving U.S. senator, after a review showed prosecutors did not provide full disclosure to the defence at trial.
In October a federal jury found Stevens guilty of seven counts of lying on a Senate disclosure form to conceal $250,000 (174,000 pounds) in gifts and home renovations from an oil executive and other friends. He faced up to 35 years in prison at sentencing.
“I have determined that it is in the interest of justice to dismiss the indictment and not proceed with a new trial,” Holder said in a statement issued as department prosecutors filed a motion in federal court to set aside the jury verdict.
The decision to drop the case was a major embarrassment for the Justice Department.
Allegations of prosecutorial misconduct had delayed the sentencing of the 85-year-old Stevens, who was narrowly defeated in the November election by Mark Begich, a Democrat. The case was cited as one of the reasons for the loss.
Stevens’ defence attorneys had sought to overturn the conviction, citing a whistle-blower complaint by an FBI agent who said another agent and prosecutors improperly concealed evidence helpful to Stevens.
American prosecutors are required to fully disclose evidence to defendants.
Last month the presiding judge in the case ordered three Justice Department attorneys held in contempt for failing to turn over documents to Stevens’ legal team. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for April 15.
Holder said the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, a unit that probes allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, will conduct a thorough review of the case.
“This does not mean or imply that any determination has been made about the conduct of those attorneys who handled the investigation and trial of this case,” he said.
Stevens, who had a reputation for being hot-tempered during his career in Washington, was a ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and known for his ability to bring federal funding to his sparsely-populated state.
“It’s time for Senator Stevens, his family and Alaskans to move on and put this behind us,” Begich said.
Editing by Paul Simao