Alleged fraud detailed in trial

Lawyer says Evans, Fulton raised false fear of lead-paint bill

Easier lawsuits threatened

June 14, 2000|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

A paint company lawyer told a federal jury yesterday that Annapolis lobbyist Gerard E. Evans repeatedly warned him about plans by Del. Tony E. Fulton and others to introduce legislation his company feared.

Testifying in the trial of Evans and Fulton on corruption charges, lawyer Harry J. Lehman said the lobbyist arranged a luncheon in January 1997 so that Lehman and two other paint company lawyers could try to dissuade Fulton.

The lawyers were "pleasantly surprised," Lehman said, when Evans told them a day later that Fulton had decided not to introduce the "market-share" legislation, which would have made it easier to sue paint companies over lead paint problems.

Lehman, who represented Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams Paint Co., testified as a prosecution witness much of the day yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Evans and Fulton, a West Baltimore Democrat, are charged with 11 counts of mail and wire fraud.

Prosecutors allege that the two men schemed to persuade paint companies that Fulton would introduce market-share legislation, which the companies paid Evans hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight. As part of the scheme, Evans allegedly steered a $10,000 real estate commission to Fulton.

Both men have pleaded innocent.

Lehman told jurors that he took a lead role hiring lobbyists in different states to protect Sherwin-Williams and three other paint manufacturers from market-share legislation.

Under such legislation, a case could proceed whether or not it could be proved that a particular company had produced the paint that poisoned the victim. Rather, plaintiffs would have been allowed to sue a paint manufacturer on the basis of that company's share of the market.

He recounted how the lawyers met Evans and Fulton for lunch in a private room at the Maryland Inn in Annapolis on Jan. 28, 1996. Fulton told them of his concerns about lead paint problems in neighborhoods with older homes, such as those in his district, Lehman said.

He said Fulton talked during the meeting about the need for private funding to help communities fight lead paint problems, and left without giving any indication that he would withdraw the bill.

Paint company lawyers went back to Evans' office after the meeting and helped write a letter to Fulton, under Evans' signature, spelling out why the proposed legislation was a bad idea, Lehman said.

Fulton wrote Evans back the next day, Lehman said, saying he had decided not to introduce the legislation. In the letter, Fulton praised Evans' lobbying skills and talked about how important Evans' friendship was to him.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dale P. Kelberman also had Lehman describe the December 1996 interview that led the paint companies to hire Evans' lobbying firm. He said Evans persuaded them they would need a lobbyist to fight market-share legislation, which he told them was likely to be introduced.

Evans suggested that Peter G. Angelos, the Orioles owner and trial lawyer, was expected to push for such legislation. "He was considered by our client and the other companies as our prime adversary," Lehman said.

In other developments yesterday, trial participants learned that a different judge will preside over the case beginning today. Chief District Judge J. Frederick Motz is taking over from District Judge William N. Nickerson, who is being treated for Lyme disease.

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