Bereano's case goes to jury

November 30, 1994|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writer

Prosecutors trying Annapolis lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano yesterday did what their witnesses weren't able to do. They wove together evidence from documents and testimony to explain the scheme that they say Mr. Bereano used to cheat clients.

"It's like footprints in the sand, and those footprints create a trail. And if you follow the trail, you can see where the scheme to defraud begins and ends," prosecutor Stephen S. Zimmermann said in closing arguments in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

But Mr. Bereano's lawyer, M. Albert Figinski, said the case is a "concoction" by federal prosecutors who wanted to pin something on a successful lobbyist. "It's Big Brother, the government, insinuating there is a crime," he said.

Mr. Bereano, the highest-paid lobbyist in the state capital, is charged with tricking clients in 1990 into paying for more than $16,000 in illegal campaign contributions to Maryland politicians.

The case is now in the hands of the jurors, who deliberated for nearly an hour yesterday before adjourning until today.

Earlier yesterday, prosecutor Dale P. Kelberman urged jurors to convict Mr. Bereano of eight mail-fraud charges. While quoting both Winston Churchill and "Alice in Wonderland," he tied together evidence from scores of documents and testimony to portray Mr. Bereano as a master con man.

Mr. Bereano's former employees and his ex-wife had testified that he directed them to make the campaign contributions and reimbursed them. "He used these people," Mr. Kelberman said. Mr. Bereano had those people make contributions for him to sidestep a state election law that limited the amount he could donate himself, the prosecutor said.

The contributions and reimbursements make up the "first two parts of the scheme to defraud," which "are hardly in debate," Mr. Kelberman said.

Prosecutors say that in part three of the scheme, Mr. Bereano tricked clients into paying for the contributions, which appeared on their bills as the cost of entertaining state legislators.

That posed a problem for prosecutors, because Mr. Bereano's bookkeeper had "deep-sixed" the billing files four years ago after Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. questioned one of the contributions.

However, Mr. Kelberman contended that jurors still had an "avalanche of evidence" -- weekly financial reports, check stubs and memos -- that establishes there were illegal billings in four cases and suggests they occurred in many others.

Notations on some check stubs, he said, show that four clients were charged for $600 in illicit contributions to two Montgomery County candidates.

"You want a smoking gun? You got it."

Mr. Figinski, the defense attorney, saw it quite differently. The prosecution's so-called avalanche of evidence is really just a "pile of junk," he said in his closing argument.

Scribblings on the check stubs were simply a "mistake," he said, and there is no other evidence that clients were actually billed for contributions.

Mr. Figinksi paced about the courtroom, jabbing his hands in the air as he verbally tried to poke holes in the prosecution's case.

For one thing, he said, the government could not produce any victims. When the clients who were allegedly swindled took the witness stand, they praised Mr. Bereano for his honesty and said they didn't believe they were cheated.

"There are no better witnesses about whether a fraud was committed," he said, his voice rising, "than the people who were the alleged victims."

"You cannot convict Mr. Bereano on this flimsy paper case which they [prosecutors] have not proven," he said. He then asked the jury not to hold his client's livelihood against him. "Please [do not] deal with Mr. Bereano as someone who is a representative of a least-favored profession."

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