A federal prosecutor outlined for a jury yesterday an alleged scheme by Annapolis lobbyist Gerard E. Evans and state Del. Tony E. Fulton to defraud some of Evans' clients of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Defense lawyers derided the prosecution case as a theory not substantiated by the evidence.
The conflicting portrayals were offered as lawyers presented opening statements in the trial of Evans and Fulton on 11 counts of mail and wire fraud. The charges relate to legislation proposed by Fulton that Evans' clients opposed and paid the lobbyist to fight.
Opening his case in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dale P. Kelberman offered new details. He said evidence will show that Fulton, a West Baltimore Democrat, helped generate $48,000 in increased lobbying fees for Evans in early 1997 by having staffers draft a bill targeting lead-paint companies represented by the lobbyist.
Under Evans' contracts with the companies, he was to earn $12,000 during the 1997 legislative session if no serious legislation was introduced and $60,000 if such a bill was proposed, the prosecutor said.
Fulton asked for the bill to be drafted five days after Evans signed those contracts, Kelberman said. He said Fulton gave a copy of the legislation to Evans as soon as it was drafted.
"We are going to show that Mr. Evans, with Mr. Fulton's assistance, sought to induce [the clients] to retain and pay Mr. Evans' firm," Kelberman said. "Mr. Evans was going to be the cure for the disease Mr. Fulton created."
The legislation that Fulton had staffers prepare -- but never introduced -- would have made it easier for victims of lead-paint poisoning to sue paint manufacturers.
During a three-year period ending last year, Evans collected more than $400,000 in lobbying fees from paint companies and asbestos manufacturers that were also concerned by the possible legislation.
Kelberman said that as part of the scheme, Evans and his former lobbying partner steered a $10,000 real estate commission to Fulton on the 1998 purchase of an Annapolis office building for Evans' law firm.
Richard D. Bennett, Fulton's attorney, countered that the prosecution's case defied common sense.
If Fulton was corrupt, Bennett asked jurors, why didn't he demand some of the lobbying fees he was supposedly helping Evans to secure?
"You have to ask yourself why, if Tony Fulton was so corrupt, he didn't say, `Show me the money,'" Bennett said.
Robert C. Bonsib, Evans' lawyer, also said the charges were far-fetched, asserting that Evans would not have risked his reputation and lucrative lobbying business on such a scheme.
Evans' clients "paid a lot of money and got a lot of services," Bonsib said. "This is an honorable person in an honorable profession doing an honorable job."
The trial, which is expected to last three to four weeks, is likely to include appearances by at least five legislators, some as defense witnesses and others for the prosecution.
During yesterday's opening statements, Fulton and Evans sat impassively at separate defense tables as their lawyers painted sympathetic portraits.
Bonsib described Evans as a hard worker who had paid 20 years worth of political dues to become a successful lobbyist. He told jurors that his client, while confident-looking in an expensive suit, was "inside, a scared puppy dog."
Bennett said Fulton had suffered through a "nightmarish" year because of the federal investigation.
Kelberman, during his hourlong opening statement, said Evans, with Fulton's help, repeatedly misled his clients about the threatened legislation.
He also suggested that the real estate fee was a reward for Fulton's assistance.
"Why is it, of all the real estate agents in Annapolis or Anne Arundel County, Mr. Evans offered this opportunity to Mr. Fulton?" Kelberman asked jurors.
Bennett countered that Fulton was a longtime real estate agent who earned his fee ethically and legally.
He said Fulton, a delegate for 14 years, had properly disclosed the real estate transaction to the General Assembly's ethics committee within a day of closing the deal in the fall of 1998.
"Why would a man who was so inherently corrupt disclose the names of the two lobbyists in a real estate transaction?" Bennett said., Bonsib said some of Evans' clients had more to fear than the legislation Fulton had proposed.
He said a representative of a coalition of asbestos companies approached Evans in January 1996 because they were concerned about other legislation backed by a political heavyweight, trial lawyer and Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos.
The legislation would have changed Maryland's laws governing civil suits. Angelos will "loom large" in the trial, Bonsib said.
Attorneys for Evans and Fulton sharply disputed a key assertion of the prosecution case, that the lobbyist drafted a letter Fulton sent to Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in 1998 promising to introduce the legislation targeting lead-paint manufacturers.
"He's got it wrong," Bonsib said. "Mr. Evans did not draft this letter. Mr. Fulton drafted that letter."
Opening statements followed two days of jury selection during which defense lawyers tried to eliminate potential jurors with negative opinions of lawmakers and lobbyists.