Judge considers dropping Bereano mail fraud case

November 23, 1994|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writer

Bruce C. Bereano, the Annapolis lobbyist fighting for his livelihood in court, has some reason for hope. A judge said yesterday he was inclined to toss out one of the criminal charges against Mr. Bereano and would consider dismissing the others.

In a somewhat unusual move, U.S. District Court Judge William M. Nickerson said he wanted to consider overnight whether the mail fraud trial should continue. He will announce his decision today.

Prosecutors in Baltimore have spent six days trying to prove that the lobbyist overcharged lobbying clients in 1990 through a scheme involving illegal campaign contributions.

According to testimony, Mr. Bereano reimbursed employees and relatives for thousands of dollars in political contributions they made for him. Nonetheless, he has not been charged with violating state campaign laws because the statute of limitations ran out three years ago.

At the heart of the case is whether Mr. Bereano used the mail to charge his clients for those political contributions -- which the clients never knew about or authorized.

Prosecutors have introduced documents showing that four clients were charged $150 each for contributions, which were disguised on monthly bills as the costs of entertaining state legislators.

After the government called its last witness yesterday, Mr. Bereano's attorneys asked the judge to dismiss the case. Defense lawyers routinely make such requests at the end of the prosecution's case, and judges usually deny them.

In this case, Judge Nickerson said he was tossing out one of the charges and would wait until today to rule on the other seven. At the request of Prosecutor Dale P. Kelberman, however, the judge agreed to hold off on all rulings until today.

M. Albert Figinski, a Bereano attorney, said he had never seen a judge "hold something overnight," but other lawyers say it does occur.

The judge appeared to be most concerned about one of the eight mail fraud counts. One witness had testified that he didn't know whether he had mailed or hand-delivered a payment to the lobbyist, the judge pointed out. The check would have had to be mailed for the government to prove mail fraud.

Mr. Nickerson questioned Mr. Kelberman closely on the other charges. He wanted to know, for example, whether deceiving the lobbying clients was the same as defrauding them. He also asked what the goal of the alleged fraud was, and who stood to benefit from it.

Stuart R. Berger, a Bereano lawyer, contended that the government would have to find a victim to prove the fraud charges. Four clients who were allegedly overcharged testified that they had no reason to believe they were cheated by Mr. Bereano, who they said was honest.

"You have a situation here where there is no victim. You can't have a fraud if there's no victim," Mr. Berger said.

Mr. Kelberman shot back that Mr. Bereano should not be rewarded for keeping his scheme hidden from his clients.

"The clients don't know they were the victims of the scheme," he said.

Some clients testified they did not know the two Montgomery County political candidates whom Mr. Bereano allegedly used their money to support.

The trial has continued to attract the interest of state officials, who have dropped by to show their support for the popular lobbyist or to satisfy their curiosity. Yesterday was no exception, with appearances by Democratic Delegates W. Ray Huff of Anne Arundel County, Ruth M. Kirk of Baltimore and Ulysses Currie of Prince George's County.

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