Top lobbyist convicted of fraud

Jury finds Evans guilty, votes to acquit state delegate

8 charges void in mistrial

July 15, 2000|By Thomas W. Waldron and Greg Garland | Thomas W. Waldron and Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

Concluding a high-profile case that rocked the Maryland political world, a federal jury in Baltimore convicted influential State House lobbyist Gerard E. Evans of scheming to defraud clients, but could not agree on whether state Del. Tony E. Fulton was guilty of conspiring in that effort.

Evans, until recently the top-earning lobbyist in Annapolis and a friend of some of the state's most powerful lawmakers, looked on impassively as the jury foreman pronounced him guilty on nine of 11 counts of mail fraud. The jury could not reach agreement on the remaining two.

The panel of seven women and five men acquitted Fulton of five of the 11 mail-fraud counts, but it remained sharply divided on six others after 3 1/2 days of deliberation.

When it was clear he had avoided conviction, Fulton, 48, put his head on the defense table and began crying, as his attorney, Richard D. Bennett, patted his back.

District Judge J. Frederick Motz declared a mistrial on the eight unresolved charges against the two men, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Dale P. Kelberman said a decision would be made later on whether to prosecute Fulton again.

"We're going to take our time and reflect on what the jury has told us about the evidence," Kelberman said after a long meeting with jurors.

That the jury was essentially evenly divided on Fulton's guilt might tend to dissuade prosecutors from launching a second trial.

U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia said she hopes the verdict will force the General Assembly to crack down on lobbyists and lawmakers who abuse the legislative system.

"We're hopeful that this does send a message ... that instances where people personally benefit from the introduction of legislation is unacceptable," she said. "It corrupts the process."

Evans was convicted of scheming between 1997 and 1999 to exaggerate or concoct the threat of legislation to ensure that several paint companies he represented continued to pay his fees.

His conviction is the latest in a string of ethics scandals in the State House, each of which has prompted fitful reform efforts by the legislature. Two years ago, a senator was expelled and another Baltimore delegate resigned amid ethics controversies.

The guilty verdict also marked the second time in six years that federal prosecutors have won a case against the State House's top-earning lobbyist. In 1994, Bruce C. Bereano was convicted of mail fraud for concealing campaign contributions.

But the charges against Evans appear to be more serious - they involve fraud aimed at his own clients, while Bereano's clients testified they approved of his actions.

Motz set Evans' sentencing for Sept. 14, and he suggested a key factor in setting the punishment will be calculating how much money Evans obtained fraudulently from his clients.

Each of the nine counts carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Under federal sentencing guidelines, Kelberman estimated that Evans might face as much as a "few years" of incarceration, and he said prosecutors would push for jail time.

Asked how he felt as he left the U.S. District Courthouse in Baltimore, Evans said, "I've been better," and declined to comment further.

Evans, 44, was a high-flying State House star until his indictment in December, representing dozens of clients and pulling in more than $1 million in lobbying fees some years. Evans' wife, Kathleen, is an Anne Arundel County prosecutor, and they have five children.

His lawyer, Robert C. Bonsib, said Evans and his family were "very disappointed" in the verdict.

"He wanted to extend his appreciation to friends, clients and elected officials who have stood by him at this time," Bonsib said.

He said he would consider appealing the verdict.

The jurors left by a back exit, eluding reporters, but some discussed the case last night on condition that they not be identified.

Jurors said the 12-member panel was evenly divided on Fulton's guilt.

"I think most of the jury felt that he had some knowledge of some wrongdoing, but the situation was very confusing," one said.

Fulton left the courthouse by a back exit without speaking to reporters. Reached at his home in Reservoir Hill later yesterday, the West Baltimore Democrat said he had no comment.

The jury had little trouble concluding that Evans had defrauded his paint company clients, voting on the first day of deliberations to convict him of two counts, the juror said.

Evans repeatedly warned the paint companies that certain officials -state Sen. Paul G. Pinsky of Prince George's County and former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke among them - would be introducing legislation to make it far easier to sue paint manufacturers.

Both Pinsky and Schmoke denied to the jury they had made such plans.

Even though no bill was introduced, Evans collected fees totaling $400,000 from firms concerned about the possibility of legislation. Testimony showed that Evans lobbied on other issues for some of those firms.

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