Currie papers sought in probe

State senator target of FBI investigation over consulting work for grocery chain

June 03, 2008|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,SUN REPORTER

The state Department of Legislative Services received yesterday a wide-ranging grand jury subpoena from federal prosecutors requesting "all documents relating to the office" of Sen. Ulysses Currie, a leading Prince George's County Democrat who is under investigation by the FBI in connection with his previously undisclosed consulting work for a regional grocery chain.

Karl S. Aro, executive director of the legislature's administrative office, said lawyers for the General Assembly spent yesterday in discussions with the U.S. attorney's office to try to "figure out exactly what it is they would like to see" so that the order's June 11 deadline can be met.

The subpoena - which asks for the budget committee chairman's personal and professional records and computers, along with all records kept by the committee staff - offered little insight into the nature of the FBI investigation, though it appears that the 70-year-old politician is the intended target.

Federal agents are asking for "notes, agendas, correspondence (including e-mails), calendars, appointment books, contacts ... financial records, outside employment with any entity, volunteer activities for any entity, charities, consulting activities for any entity ... interactions with any state or local government agency or board, or its personnel, and all other documents," according to a copy of the subpoena provided by Aro yesterday.

The state attorney general's office has directed Currie's staff to preserve all documents and records sought by the subpoena, said Daniel A. Friedman, counsel to the legislature.

Officials with the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office said they could not comment on a continuing investigation.

Last week, FBI agents searched Currie's District Heights home and the headquarters of Lanham-based Shoppers Food & Pharmacy, taking records from both.

Dale Kelberman, Currie's attorney, said he received yesterday an inventory of items seized from the senator's house. He declined to say what they were.

Officials with Supervalu, the Minnesota-based parent of Shoppers Food, have said that Currie was an "outside consultant" for the 64-store chain. The senator did not disclose any outside employment on his financial-disclosure forms, as is required by law.

As chairman of the powerful Budget and Taxation Committee, Currie shepherds the governor's annual operating and capital budgets through legislative changes and approval.

Karen Glenn-Hood, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, said neither Shoppers Food nor Supervalu is a direct beneficiary of state subsidies. "No state money, no tax breaks, nothing has gone to either of those companies," she said.

The state has pledged $1.8 million to West Baltimore's Mondawmin Mall, where a Shoppers Food store opened in November. That money would go to the mall's owner, General Growth Properties, for renovation of the property and has not been appropriated, Glenn-Hood said.

A spokeswoman for the Washington Metro said yesterday that Currie attended three meetings in early 2006 during which subway officials, Prince George's County officials and representatives of Shoppers Foods discussed the possible commercial development of 8 acres near the West Hyattsville Metro station.

"We did not have knowledge that he was apparently affiliated with the grocery chain," said Lisa Farbstein, the spokeswoman. "We thought he was there as an interested proponent of economic development for the region."

Farbstein said Metro has not been contacted by the FBI. The land near the subway stop remains unused, she said.

Responding yesterday to last week's call by the state Republican Party that Currie step down from his leadership post, Maryland Democrats defended the retired educator, who has been in the legislature since 1987.

"We would be wise to reserve judgment on any man or woman ... until all the facts are in and the scrutiny has run its course," said Michael Cryor, the state Democratic Party chairman. "This is not a time for the Republican Party or anyone else to use vague and uncertain events as a smear tactic to score political points."

In November, Currie was made an unpaid board member of the Capital Area Food Bank, which has received food and financial contributions from Shoppers Food and other grocers.

"He's been a champion of the impoverished," said Joseph B. Smith, the food bank's chief operating officer, "a champion of those who are at risk of hunger."

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

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