Paint firm representatives testify in fraud trial

Prosecutor says Evans falsely stirred client fears

June 20, 2000|By Thomas W. Waldron and Greg Garland | Thomas W. Waldron and Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

State House lobbyist Gerard E. Evans warned some of his clients in 1998 that a state senator and then-Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke were planning legislation targeting those companies, a lawyer for the firms testified yesterday.

No such legislation was introduced. The prosecutor in the federal mail-fraud trial of Evans and Del. Tony E. Fulton has said testimony will show that Evans lied to his clients to keep them paying his lobbying fees.

Baltimore lawyer Edward F. Houff testified that Evans said both Schmoke and state Sen. Paul G. Pinsky were planning legislation that would have made it dramatically easier to sue lead-paint manufacturers. Houff was a lawyer for paint and asbestos companies that Evans represented in Annapolis.

Evans said he met during the summer of 1998 with Schmoke, who had "indicated" that he would ask for a bill to be introduced during the 1999 legislative session, Houff testified.

Houff added that the news that Schmoke was preparing legislation confirmed his fear that paint manufacturers would have to continue their lobbying effort in the State House.

"It was kind of a confirmation ... that it was a percolating issue," Houff said. "I thought the mayor's participation was of potential significance."

In his opening statement last week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dale P. Kelberman said Schmoke will testify that he never met with Evans on the issue and, in 1998, had not decided whether to support the lead-paint legislation.

Similarly, Kelberman said last week that Pinsky, a Prince George's Democrat, will testify that he had never heard of the lead-paint legislation, despite Evans' assertions to his clients.

With the testimony yesterday, the prosecution continued to try to portray Evans as systematically exaggerating the threat of lead-paint legislation to generate lobbying fees.

Another paint company representative, Denver lawyer Timothy D. Knaus, testified yesterday that warnings from Evans caused him to conclude that Maryland was "the No. 1, front-burner state" at risk of passing legislation targeting lead-paint firms.

Evans and Fulton, a West Baltimore Democrat, are charged with 11 counts of mail and wire fraud for allegedly scheming to help Evans generate fees from paint companies of more than $400,000 from 1997 to 1999.

During that time, Fulton twice discussed introducing legislation to change the rules governing lead paint lawsuits and subject the companies to potentially devastating financial judgments.

Prosecutors allege 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' firm.

Evans and Fulton pleaded not guilty to the charges. Their lawyers have said that prosecutors distorted their clients' actions.

In his cross-examination of witnesses yesterday, Evans' attorney, Robert C. Bonsib, suggested that the lobbyists' clients faced a threat from another adversary. Baltimore lawyer Peter G. Angelos also was interested in seeing lead-paint legislation passed by the General Assembly, Bonsib noted.

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