Glowing tributes seek to keep Bereano out of prison

April 20, 1995|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,Sun Staff Writer

For a convicted felon, Bruce C. Bereano's credentials appear impeccable.

Police officers, lawyers, state senators, members of Congress, even judges and former Gov. William Donald Schaefer are willing to vouch for his character.

Honest. Compassionate. Hard-working. He even remembers birthdays, they wrote.

Altogether, 383 effusive letters of praise for Bereano have been sent to U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson. That weighs in at more than 6 pounds of testimonials for the man who until recently was the most powerful lobbyist in Maryland.

Judge Nickerson is busy -- with a little help from Bereano's friends -- deciding just what price the lobbyist should pay for defrauding clients of more than $16,000 to make illegal campaign contributions.

Convicted last November of eight counts of mail fraud, Bereano is scheduled to be sentenced tomorrow. Prosecutors are recommending 2 1/2 years in prison and a $60,000 fine. Defense lawyers are pushing for community service.

Former state Sen. Julian L. Lapides, a stalwart supporter of tougher ethics laws, says he is uneasy about the mass of letters. "Just because they think Bruce may have been a nice guy or done them favors, I question the propriety of letters supporting someone who a jury found was guilty of subverting the system."

Said Deborah Povich, executive director of Common Cause Maryland: "It is my hope that judges are above lobbying and will not be swayed by this effort."

But many of Maryland's public figures say Bruce Bereano is a very fine fellow who shouldn't go to jail.

There's Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary, a former state delegate. He distrusted lobbyists when he arrived at the State House 13 years ago, he wrote, but Bereano was different.

"If anything, I find the behavior of some of my colleagues to be questionable, and often Mr. Bereano was forced to remind them of the boundaries of the law."

American Joe Miedusiewski, the former Baltimore senator and gubernatorial candidate, also wrote. "When Bruce traveled with our exchange group to Germany several years ago, he just wanted to be 'one of the guys;' not a lobbyist, not a deal maker."

Even the widow of U.S. District Judge Norman P. Ramsey prodded for a light sentence. She recalled dinners she and her husband had shared with Bereano and noted his work with the Maryland Boys & Girls Clubs.

Judge Nickerson now sits in the very courtroom "where Bruce tried pro bono cases before Norm," Tucky P. Ramsey reminded the judge. "If I were talking to Norm now, my recommendation would be directed at community service which would benefit others."

Current, former judges

Maryland's judicial family was represented by several current and former judges.

Honest and hard-working, Bereano has always been a credit to his profession, wrote District Judge Gerard Devlin of Prince George's County.

And former Baltimore City Circuit Judge Paul A. Dorf, now a private attorney, also weighed in -- apologizing "if I have overstepped propriety." Bereano "will continue for the rest of his life to bear the horrible responsibility for the acts that he has been convicted of, I ask, what more punishment does he deserve?"

These letters -- and scores like them -- reflect the respect a wide cross-section of people in Maryland have for his client, says Bereano lawyer Albert Figinski.

L Prosecutors yesterday declined to comment about the letters.

Bereano, who solicited several lawmakers for character references, pulled up to the courthouse door himself last week to deliver the stacks of letters to the judge.

Nine categories

Sandwiched between sheets of black paperboard, the letters are neatly organized into nine categories. The most voluminous sections: friends (108), public officials (87), attorneys (58), legislative clients (45), and lobbyists (40). Family and former employees, even an ex-wife, are in there.

Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin recalled a 20-year association with Bereano that began when they worked together for the release of former Gov. Marvin Mandel from prison. (Mr. Mandel was cleared on appeal of corruption charges.) Mr. Pollin described Bereano as trustworthy and caring.

Legislators join in

Fifth District Representative Steny H. Hoyer, a Democrat, and 2nd District Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, also praised Bereano's character.

"He is famous for remembering birth dates, anniversaries and other significant dates in people's lives," Mr. Hoyer wrote. "Quite obviously, one could cynically observe that he does this for political and/or business gain."

But, Mr. Hoyer concluded, "his consideration of others very much predates his lobbying activities."

And a letter from Larry W. Tolliver, who until recently headed the Maryland State Police, sounds very much like a recommendation for an Eagle Scout.

Trustworthy, loyal, compassionate, reliable. Bereano has all these qualities, he wrote.

BEREANO SUPPORTERS

Here is a partial list of current and former public officials who wrote letters in support of Bruce C. Bereano:

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