Currie target of FBI probe

Investigation looks at senator's work for grocery chain

May 30, 2008|By Gadi Dechter and John-John Williams IV | Gadi Dechter and John-John Williams IV,Sun reporters

The FBI is investigating Sen. Ulysses Currie, a leading Prince George's County Democrat, in connection with his consulting work for Shoppers Food & Pharmacy, a spokeswoman for parent company Supervalu in Minnesota said yesterday.

Richard Wolf, an FBI spokesman in Baltimore, said that agents visited Currie's District Heights home yesterday afternoon after also serving a search warrant at Shoppers Food Warehouse's corporate headquarters in Lanham. "It's an ongoing investigation," said Wolf, who declined to provide additional information.

Haley M. Meyer, the Supervalu spokeswoman, said Currie is an "outside consultant" for Shoppers Food, but she declined to elaborate about the work that the 70-year-old chairman of the powerful Budget and Taxation Committee performed for the company.

Shoppers Food & Pharmacy has more than 60 supermarkets in Baltimore, Northern Virginia and Washington. The parent company, Supervalu, has made about $7,500 in political contributions to Currie since 2004, as well as donations to other Maryland politicians, including Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

"Shoppers Food & Pharmacy and Supervalu were contacted this morning as part of an FBI investigation," said Meyer in a statement. "The FBI has told us that they are working on an investigation related to one of our service providers. We are cooperating fully with the FBI and cannot provide additional detail at this time."

Last night, Currie told reporters in the driveway outside his home that he had met yesterday with attorney Dale Kelberman in Baltimore. "The lawyer asked me to allow him to make a comment," Currie said. Kelberman, a former federal prosecutor, did not respond to a request seeking comment.

Miller did not return calls yesterday afternoon, and his aide, Vicki Gruber, said he would have no comment.

The revelation yesterday afternoon of an FBI investigation into Currie left many Annapolis politicians and lobbyists confused about what might be under scrutiny. Many declined to comment yesterday, saying they did not know any details and were unaware of a specific relationship between Currie and Shoppers Food.

Currie told reporters that FBI agents greeted him when he walked out of his home about 6:30 a.m. yesterday. He said he had not talked to the FBI before and has not been charged with a crime.

Currie said he left home, while the agents remained there. He said there were "at least eight, nine, 10" agents at his home.

The senator said he did not know what the results of the investigation would be, but he said he wasn't worried.

"One, it doesn't help to be worried," Currie told reporters. "I think, two, you've got to be realistic to know they can always find something."

Currie then pointed out that he is involved in a lot of state business as chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee. "I'm involved in a lot of stuff," he said.

Asked what the FBI was investigating, Currie replied: "I don't know. Again, I would prefer you talk to the lawyer. The lawyer asked me to, you know, allow him to make the comments."

When asked about the connection with the supermarket, Currie said: "I don't know. I mean, I really don't know. I don't know." Currie appears to be at least the third Democratic leader of the Senate to be investigated by the FBI in the past few years.

Former Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, pleaded guilty to charges related to public corruption last year and is in federal prison.

But an investigation of Miller's slots-related fundraising activities was closed in 2004 without charges after the FBI found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Currie has headed the Senate's budget committee since 2002, and last year he told The Sun he was interested in succeeding Miller as the chamber's president after his fellow Democrat retires. The former school principal was elected to the Senate in 1994 after eight years in the House of Delegates, where he rose to the position of majority whip.

In this year's legislative session, Currie was instrumental in repealing a sales tax on computer services before the unpopular levy went into effect, and he also helped orchestrate a legislative rescue of Prince George's Hospital Center, which has long been beset by financial problems.

Outside Currie's home yesterday, neighbors said that as many as eight cars were parked for about two hours on the quiet street in District Heights.

Mickey Bailey, a neighbor, said she came home about 3:30 p.m. to watch her favorite television show and saw the cars and thought there had been a death.

She saw a woman carrying items from the house down the driveway, she said. "This is a lot more interesting than today's 'Dr. Phil' episode," Bailey said.

Another neighbor who left to run an errand about 2 p.m. saw the cars and assumed it was a luncheon event at the senator's home. Two hours later, the cars were gone, and word on the street was that the home had been searched. The second neighbor, who asked that her name not be used, said she was shocked to learn of the raid. "They are quiet," she said of the Curries. "Once a year, they might have a picnic, but I have never seen them doing anything."

By late afternoon, news media had converged on the street near the two-level red brick home with black shutters and a neatly kept yard. A silver Chrysler with Senate tags sat in the carport, and a black Mini Cooper was parked in the driveway under a rusting basketball hoop.

When the doorbell of the house was rung, no one answered.

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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