Bereano witness forgets earlier account of billing

November 17, 1994|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writer

The trial of Annapolis lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano took a dramatic turn yesterday when a key government witness contradicted herself about his involvement in overcharging clients -- an issue at the heart of the case.

Sandra Steed O'Hearn, the lobbyist's former bookkeeper, testified in U.S. District Court that she could not recall Mr. Bereano telling her to bill his clients for improper political contributions.

But a prosecutor said that last year Ms. O'Hearn gave a grand jury a different account of events. Stephen S. Zimmermann read aloud an excerpt of her 1993 testimony, in which she acknowledged making the billings at Mr. Bereano's request.

Mr. Bereano, the first Annapolis lobbyist to earn $1 million a year, is charged with defrauding his lobbying clients of thousands of dollars. Prosecutors say he charged clients for the costs of illegal campaign contributions made by his employees and relatives in 1990.

In earlier testimony, Ms. O'Hearn and Mr. Bereano's former wife, Betty Nadine Snyder, said they made political donations at the lobbyist's request and were reimbursed by him.

The trial has provided a glimpse of the tangled relationships between lobbyists and state legislators.

Although she was a prosecution witness, Ms. O'Hearn did not do much to bolster the government's case against Mr. Bereano yesterday. For example, she did not link her former boss to the billings.

In a dramatic moment, however, the prosecutor asked her if she remembered telling a grand jury a different story in July 1993.

She did not, she answered.

Mr. Zimmermann then read aloud the following excerpt from a transcript of her 1993 testimony:

"Question: So did Mr. Bereano give you instructions to have the clients billed for these political contributions you were making at his request?

"Answer: Yes.

"Question: And is that why you put it in the legislative expense column?

"Answer: Yes.

"Question: Did he tell you precisely which clients to bill for each check?

"Answer: Most of the time, yes."

Ms. O'Hearn said she had not been allowed to review her 1993 testimony before taking the stand yesterday. "I don't recall the questions and answers I gave 18 months ago to the grand jury," she said.

Earlier in the trial yesterday, she had acknowledged contributing hundreds of dollars to candidates for the Maryland General Assembly in 1990, including Paul Muldowney, Christopher Van Hollen Jr., John A. Hurson, Tommie Broadwater and Rosemarie Church.

She said Mr. Bereano's law firm reimbursed her, using checks that bore false notations suggesting they were payments for office supplies.

Ms. Snyder, Mr. Bereano's ex-wife, testified Tuesday that the lobbyist asked her and her daughter to make political contributions because state law prevented him from donating more money himself. Mr. Bereano has not been charged with violating state election laws. The statute of limitations for bringing such charges expired three years ago.

Prosecutors have spent three days setting up their mail-fraud case by focusing on the allegedly fraudulent bills Mr. Bereano's office mailed to clients.,3

Ms. O'Hearn also said yesterday that she threw away billing files in late 1990 after a legislator advised a co-worker against making the contributions. She said she wanted to destroy evidence that could link her to possible violations of state election laws.

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