Bereano enters plea of innocent

June 08, 1994|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,Sun Staff Writer

Annapolis lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano entered a plea of innocent yesterday in his first court appearance since being indicted May 26 on charges of defrauding clients in a scheme to make illegal campaign contributions.

In a 15-minute hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul M. Rosenberg, Mr. Bereano requested a jury trial and was released on his own recognizance. An Oct. 31 trial date was set.

"The only appropriate place to comment is in the courtroom," Mr. Bereano said as he left the hearing carrying a brown legal file stuffed with papers. His lawyer, M. Albert Figiniski, declined to discuss plans for Mr. Bereano's defense except to say that the charges will be vigorously contested.

Mr. Bereano, 49, of Annapolis, the highest paid lobbyist in the state's capital, is charged with eight counts of mail fraud. Each felony count carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The indictment was the culmination of a 17-month investigation by the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service, which combed through campaign finance records, documents from the files of Mr. Bereano's clients and other records.

Prosecutors contend that between May 1990 and June 1991, Mr. Bereano instructed employees of his law firm to make a series of campaign contributions in their own names to political candidates he specified. They later were reimbursed from law firm accounts, prosecutors say.

Some employees also cashed checks drawn on law firm accounts, prosecutors say, and Mr. Bereano used the money to reimburse family members for political contributions they made at his direction.

On the law firm's books, the expenses were recorded as legislative entertainment costs and were billed to clients, the indictment says. Mr. Bereano is accused of defrauding clients of more than $16,000. Although only four clients were noted in the indictment, prosecutors say the $16,000 also reflects bills paid by other clients. Mr. Bereano concealed the true source of the contributions, prosecutors say.

More than $15,000 was contributed to the Bereano political action committee by relatives of Mr. Bereano, according to 1990 records filed with the state board of elections. The Bereano PAC and Mr. Bereano made about $20,765 in political contributions during the 1990 election year, prosecutors say.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Dale P. Kelberman and Stephen Zimmermann are prosecuting the case.

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