Hands are clean, Fulton declares

He denies any role in alleged scheme to aid lobbyist

`Nothing to hide'

Never intended to offer lead-paint legislation, he says

June 29, 2000|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Del. Tony E. Fulton denied any wrongdoing yesterday in his legislative and real estate dealings with a prominent State House lobbyist, telling a federal jury he played no role in an alleged scheme to generate fees for the lobbyist.

"I would never, and I did not ever, consider doing anything that was inappropriate or illegal," Fulton testified in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. "I have nothing to hide."

But in more than four hours on the stand, Fulton appeared to give ammunition to prosecutors by offering sometimes awkward explanations of his actions.

He said he was motivated to propose legislation to help victims of lead paint poisoning after detailed conversations with a constituent. But Fulton testified that he could not identify the man, and prosecutors said they have been unable to locate any such person.

Fulton also admitted that he never intended to introduce a lead paint bill, and said he talked about doing so only in an attempt to scare paint manufacturers.

He denied, however, that his intent was to drum up fees for Annapolis lobbyist Gerard E. Evans. Rather, Fulton said, he was trying to pressure the paint companies into donating money for projects to help his constituents.

Fulton and Evans are charged with 11 counts of mail fraud for allegedly scheming to create lobbying fees for Evans by misleading paint companies about the likelihood of lead paint liability legislation. The companies paid Evans hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight such bills - which Fulton threatened to introduce, but never did.

In his testimony yesterday, the West Baltimore Democrat made these points:

Fulton said he got the idea for a bill targeting paint companies in the fall of 1996 from a constituent who called him twice and sent him materials about the issue. Fulton said he even had the caller work with a legislative bill-drafter on the final form of the paint legislation.

But Fulton told the jury he could not identify the man.

"I can't remember his name," Fulton said, adding he had "dumped" any files that might have included the man's identity.

The General Assembly staffer who drafted the bill has testified that he spoke to a man referred by Fulton who identified himself as "Mr. Braxton." Prosecutors say they have been unable to locate someone by that name with any involvement in the paint issue.

Fulton said he never intended to introduce the paint bill, which would have made it easier for victims of lead poisoning to sue paint manufacturers. But he denied prosecution assertions that he brought up the idea in both 1997 and 1998 simply to help Evans generate fees from companies opposed to the bill.

Fulton said he wanted to use the threat of legislation to force paint companies to spend money on victims of lead poisoning in his district and around the state.

"This was a negotiating tool by me to bring the paint companies to the table," Fulton said, adding that such tactics were commonplace in Annapolis.

Over a two-year period, the paint companies never spent any money on community projects pushed by Fulton. The legislator acknowledged under sharp cross-examination from Assistant U.S. Attorney Dale P. Kelberman that he rarely pressed Evans, the companies' representative in Annapolis, on the matter.

Fulton denied prosecutors' assertions that Evans secretly wrote a letter for Fulton to send to then-Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in October 1998. The letter sought Schmoke's support for legislation targeting paint and asbestos companies.

Convincing the jury that Evans actually drafted the letter is a key goal of the prosecution, as it would be the clearest evidence that he and Fulton worked together to deceive paint companies. Evans used the letter - and its threat that Fulton would introduce a paint bill during the 1999 legislative session - to help convince the paint companies to hire him to fend off the bill.

Fulton told the jury yesterday that he wrote the letter and typed it himself.

He offered this explanation for testimony by witnesses that Evans faxed a draft of the letter to him: After writing the letter, he took his only copy to Evans' office and left it on his desk because the lobbyist had asked to see it.

Evans returned the draft to him a week later, Fulton said.

When pressed by Kelberman, Fulton seemed to struggle to deflect some questions about the letter's contents.

While Fulton said the letter to Schmoke was intended to apply financial leverage to the paint companies, Fulton could not give a specific reason why he also wrote that his bill would target asbestos manufacturers. He suggested that he included a variety of things in the letter simply to get the "attention" of the paint companies.

At the time, Evans also represented several asbestos companies. Prosecutors allege he used Fulton to scare them as well into retaining his services.

Evans, 44, also has pleaded not guilty. He is expected to testify when the trial resumes next week.

Prosecutors contend that as part of his scheme with Fulton, Evans steered a $10,000 real estate commission to Fulton on the purchase of a $600,000 Annapolis office building for Evans' firm.

Fulton testified yesterday that the commission was the largest he has ever received, but said he earned it. "I worked very hard on this deal," Fulton said.

During his testimony, Fulton, 48, and his attorney, Richard D. Bennett, appeared determined to paint a sympathetic portrait, bringing up Fulton's separation from his wife, his poor eyesight and his limited computer skills.

The legislator also tried to make clear that he was nothing more than a "professional friend" of Evans. Neither man had been to the other's house, he said, and Fulton said he knew little about Evans' family.

But Kelberman reminded jurors that Evans and Fulton talked often and spent time together outside the State House - at golf outings, fund-raisers and meals.

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