State House lobbyist Gerard E. Evans began the biggest lobbying job of his life yesterday - trying to sell himself to a federal jury that will determine whether he is guilty of mail fraud.
Appearing calm and confident, he spent 3 1/2 hours on the witness stand recounting the Gerry Evans story. He told of his success at a young age in Maryland political circles, his insider's technique for influencing the General Assembly and his astonishing earnings once he reached the top of the Annapolis lobbying world.
Evans also touched on points that might elicit sympathy from jurors, telling them of his bankruptcy, his failure to pass the Maryland bar exam, his wife's "surprise" pregnancy with twins a few years ago, even the knee injury that ended his college football career.
As the day ended, Evans had yet to begin addressing the core accusations against him and his co-defendant, state Del. Tony E. Fulton.
The two are charged with defrauding paint and asbestos manufacturers by exaggerating the threat of legislation aimed at them.
But Evans said yesterday that those companies had plenty of reason to fear such legislation, testifying that Baltimore lawyer Peter G. Angelos told him of his interest in targeting paint companies as early as 1995.
And Evans suggested he had no motive for breaking the law to attract and hold onto lobbying clients, saying he didn't need the paint companies' business at a time when his firm was raking in money from dozens of corporations.
"It was more than I ever expected to earn," Evans said. "It was very good."
Evans and Fulton are each charged with 11 counts of mail and wire fraud for allegedly scheming to generate lobbying fees for Evans. Prosecutors say that as part of the scheme, Evans steered a $10,000 real estate commission to Fulton.
Fulton, a West Baltimore Democrat, denied any wrongdoing when he testified last week.
Evans will be on the stand again today to discuss the specifics of the prosecution's case against him - including allegations from former co-workers that he doctored documents to fool paint companies into believing that legislation making it easier to sue them was imminent.
He will then undergo cross-examination from Assistant U.S. Attorney Dale P. Kelberman.
But yesterday, Evans, 44, made the most of his chance to describe for jurors his climb to the top ranks in Annapolis.
While still in college, he began working for a Montgomery County senator. By the age of 22, he was an aide to Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller, an up-and-coming committee chairman who is now Senate president.
And at 30, Evans took his first lobbying job, on the staff of the state medical society. He told jurors he was saddled with student debt at the time and declared bankruptcy.
A decade later, he was the top-earning lobbyist in Annapolis - representing dozens of clients and collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in salary.
Evans' testimony included what amounted to an hour-long lecture on the "mechanics" of passing or killing legislation. He characterized his role as being an information vacuum for his clients, "checking the traps" for intelligence.
"Largely it's one-on-one personal contact with members of the legislature, their staff and political operatives," Evans said. "You just kind of go through the halls and catch who you can."
He described a cozy political world where it isn't unusual for legislators to share information with lobbyists, even those who represent clients on the other side of an issue.
Evans told the jury he urged his clients to spend their money freely - on community projects favored by legislators and on campaign contributions as well. He noted approvingly that asbestos companies he represented had sent contributions to the General Assembly's Legislative Black Caucus and to a decoy museum supported by an Eastern Shore senator.
"Companies that are good corporate citizens" are less likely to be "hurt" by legislation, Evans testified.
At the end of the day, he described the fees he routinely collected during the mid-1990s from many of his clients.
It was nothing for health care interests to pay his firm $80,000 or $100,000 a year to represent them in Annapolis, Evans testified.
The Washington Redskins were paying him as much as $70,000 a month - in part because team owner Jack Kent Cooke insisted on paying by the hour, Evans said.
By 1996, Evans said, his firm had gross fees of about $2 million.
Did you need additional business from the paint companies, Evans' attorney, Robert C. Bonsib, asked.
"No," Evans replied. The $60,000 in fees they paid him the following year were "a small piece of what we were doing," he said.
While downplaying those fees, Evans suggested the paint companies had reason to fear the introduction of hostile legislation.
Beginning in early 1997, Evans repeatedly warned the companies that certain officials and Angelos were considering "market-share" legislation that would have made it much easier for victims of lead poisoning to sue paint manufacturers.
Evans testified that Angelos told him over dinner in 1995 or 1996 that Angelos planned to pursue such a bill or similar measures targeting the paint companies.
"He laid out a plan for going after the lead paint companies," Evans told jurors.
He said Angelos talked about building a coalition that would include landlords to pursue the issue. "He thought he would have an excellent chance, as he put it, of bringing the lead paint companies to their knees," Evans testified.
Angelos, contacted at his office yesterday, declined to comment on Evans' statements.
"I have no comment since the matter is presently in court," Angelos said. He said he has not been subpoenaed to testify in the trial.